THE KING OF ALSANDER
8r THE SAME AUTHOR
THE GOLDEN JOURNEY
JAMES ELROY FLECKER
LONDON: GEORGE ALLEN & UNWIN LTD.
RUSKIN HOUSE 40 MUSEUM STREET, W.C.
First Published in 1914
New Edition . . 1915
(All rights reserved)
J. N. MAVROGORDATO
of which he never despaired in the Rough
Is dedicated in the Ripe
Chapter I. Blaindon 1
Chapter II. Alsander 26
Chapter III. En Pension in Alsander 44
Chapter IV. Introducing a good beggar and
a bad King 59
Chapter V. Of the knighting of Norman
Chapter VI. Concerning Isis and Aphro-
dite: with a digression on the shocking
treatment the Tatter's followers receive
from the hands of English novelists 98
Chapter VII. The Society for the Advance-
ment of Alsander 115
Chapter VIII. How Norman failed to pass
a qualifying examination for the post
of King of Alsander, and was whipped:
together with a digression on the ex-
cellence of whipping 124
Chapter IX. The Consul 137
Chapter X. Contains the President's tale
and a debate on the advantages of
Chapter XI. A Visit to Vorza 171
Chapter XII. In which the Beetles crawl 186
Chapter XIII. Re-Coronation 203
Chapter XIV. Princess lanthe 210
Chapter XV. Peronella and the Priest 233
Chapter XVI. The Counter Conspiracy: an
episode in the style of the worst writers 249
Chapter XVII. Battle 262
Chapter XVIII. The Poet visits Blaindon
once more, and takes John Gaffekin to
the seashore, where a miracle occurs 290
Here is a tale all romance a tale such as only
a Poet can write for you, O appreciative and
generous Public a tale of madmen, kings,
scholars, grocers, consuls, and Jews: a tale ivith
two heroines, both of an extreme and indescribable
beauty: a tale of the South and of sunshine,
wherein will be found disguises, mysteries, con-
spiracies, fights, at least one good whipping, and
plenty of blood and love and absurdity: a very
old sort of tale: a tale as joyously improbable as
But if I know you aright, appreciative and
generous Public, you look for more than this in
these tragic days of social unrest, and you will
be most dissatisfied with my efforts to please you.
For you a king is a shadow, a madman a person
to bz shut up, a scholar a fool, a grocer a trades-
man, a consul an inferior grade of diplomatic
officer, and a Jew a Jew. You will demand to
know what panacea is preached in this novel as
a sovran remedy for the dismal state of affairs in
England. With what hope do I delude the groan-
ing poor: with what sarcasm insult the insulting
rich? What is the meaning of my apparent
joyousness ? What has grim iron-banging Eng-
land to do with sunshine, dancing, adventure and,
abwe all, with Poets ?
In support of my reputation let me hasten to
observe that in my efforts to please a generous and
appreciative Public I have not failed to insert
several passages of a high moral tone. Grave
matters of ethics are frequently discussed in the
course of my story, and the earnest inquirer may
learn much from this book concerning the aim,
purpose and origin of his existence. To Govern-
ment and its problems I have given particular
attention, and the observant reader may draw
from these subtle pages a complete theory of the
Fallacy of the Picturesque. Only I implore the
public to forgive the Poet his proverbial licence,
to remember that truth is still truth, though clad
in harlequin raiment, and thought still thought,
though hinted and not explained.
Farewell, then, my King of Alsander. Eide
out into the world and conquer. Behind you a
merry and a mocking phantom my youth ridei
out for ever/
KING OF ALSANDER
Would that I had a little cot
Beside a little hill,
In some romantic English spot
Where summer's not so very hot
And winter not too chill.
THE writer of these simple lines, now un-
happily dead, was a man of the soil, whose
sweet native note had never been troubled
by the sinister depravities, the heartless
affectations of urban existence; and I believe
myself that his pathetic and modest ideal
could have been actually realized had he
inhabited, as perhaps he did, the peaceful
village of Blaindon. This secluded hamlet lies
some ten miles from the sea, in an undu-
lating, but not terrible, country a land of
woodland and meadow, of buttercup and
daisy, of tiny streams and verdant dells.
At evening the scene is more tranquil than
ever, and the old church spire, standing sen-
tinel above the cold ploughlands, presents a
curiously sad appearance, tinged as it is with
2 THE KING OF ALS ANDER
the melancholy of years. However at the time
when this story opens it was not evening, but
afternoon, and a very hot one. The horse in
his freedom, like the pig in his confinement,
lolled upon the ground, and the thatches
rustled with the melodies of sleep.
Yes, let us look beneath those thatches
and consider the village yokel for a moment,
as with mouth agape and heavy eyelids he
takes his meed of repose:
Nee partem solido demere de die
Spernit; mine viridi membra sub arbuto
Stratus; nunc ad aquae lene caput sacrae.
But if, here in England, he has no arbute tree,
or sacred fountain, whereby to stretch his
large, unwieldy limbs, there awaits him, never-
theless, the fireside in winter, the straw of the
stable loft for hotter days. Ensconced beneath
such lowly roofs as those of little Blaindon,
many a hundred sons of toil have been born,
been married and been finally dead, after a lif e
spent in working nobly for an ignoble pit-
tance, far away from the wearisome strife
of new ideas and endeavours, and all the
rumbling of the world's chariot wheels.
I have carefully examined the records in
the parish church, thinking that they might
interest all those who still have faith in the
sterling qualities and bulldog tenacity of our
British yeoman class. I discovered the inter-
esting fact that only a fifth of the population
die before the age of sixty-five; and that the
same families seem to have lived here in a
state of ceaseless intermarriage for century
after century. The Weolkeftings of Saxon days,
the Weilcans of the Normans, who are they
but the honest Wilkinses round the corner?
No great calamities have occurred at Blaindon
except an occasional plague; no stirring battles
have there been fought. The place seems to
have been forgotten or overlooked during the
Civil Wars. (However, an inhabitant of the
town fought at Balaclava, but not in the
Heavy Brigade.) Of the prevailing insanity,
I need say nothing; this is the inheritance of
all rustic communities. That the people of
Blaindon are happy and appreciate their
charming home they have proved in the
clearest possible way. They have never left it.
Would that he who looks over the church-
yard wall down at the tidy rows of one-room
cottages, whose gardens blaze with nasturtia
and red daisies, could say that no jarring
note, no trace of a restless individuality,
marred the enchanting scene. But, alas ! every
traveller is bound to remark a peculiarly ugly
two-storied erection, whose rectangular bricks
render it at once an eyesore and a solecism.
This building used to be called by the inhabi-
tants Price's bongmash: but the name on its
sign was Bon Marche (French for Good
4 THE KING OF ALSANDER
Market). Mr Price's business was at the time
this story opens the most flourishing concern
in Blaindon. It was carried on chiefly by the
indomitable energy of the younger Price; his
father now slept most of the day, not so much
on account of his advancing years as because
he was very tired and a heavy eater. He
could trust his son completely. Young Norman
Price was one of the most envied personages
in Blaindon. He was only nineteen; a hand-
some and strong young man, and the face he
showed a customer wore no servile frock-
coated smirk, but a laugh of real pleasure at
being able to supply the needs of the com-
munity. Nearly everything was on sale in his
shop all groceries, also cloth, garden seeds,
papers, books (the least flourishing part of
the trade), and tobacco. Yet his store did not
look at all like other village stores where
everything is bought in dirty pennyworths. It
was well arranged, and the goods were dis-
played to good account, more after the tradi-
tion, I fear, of American vulgarity than of
British honesty. Worse still, Price had actually
taken upon himself to corrupt the adorable
simplicity of the villagers and to turn their
thoughts to the enervating fashions of great
cities. If a young villager came in who liked to
be thought rather a nut and who fancied him-
self in a new waistcoat, the young grocer
would [give him a little elegant and expensive
tobacco to try, explain that he smoked it
himself, and that one smoked less of it than
of the commoner sorts, so it came no dearer
after all. He utterly refused to sell cigarettes
at ten for a penny, or assorted sweets at three
half-pence the quarter. It soon became a mark
of distinction to be a customer at the Bon
Marche, and the firm got a reputation for
selling " sound articles and no trash."
I have not mentioned, however, the object
that would probably most astonish a gentle-
man of culture on entering the shop. On the
wall hung a large and fine reproduction of
Holbein's portrait of Georg Gisze. The young
merchant, robed in delicate silk and velvet,
and surrounded by keys, quadrants, scissors,
maps, and ledgers, was obviously meant to
be the tutelary deity of the house; indeed, as
a set-off to the flowers that stand upon the
painted table, Norman had placed a large bowl
of carnations on his counter.
The picture had been a present from his
friend, John Gaffekin. If young Price appears
in this story so strangely different from his
father and from the other villagers of Blain-
don, and indeed from all grocers whatsoever,
we need not accept the explanation of some,
that his father was " a deeper man than you'd
think " or the assertion of others that he " got
it from his mother," a lady of whom he had
never seen so much as a photograph. The lad's
6 THE KING OF ALSANDER
singularity was much more likely due to this
curious and close intimacy with a gentleman:
and I hope that those who read this history
will not close the book without a sigh of re-
monstrance against all those who insist on
giving the lower classes thoughts above their
station. John Gaffekin lived with his widowed
mother in thq Elizabethan Blaindon Hall, a
typical old country house standing just out-
side the village on a plot of park. The old lady
was infirm, and in order that he might attend
to his mother, and also avoid drawing on a by
no means unlimited income, John had never
gone to school. He had taken some lessons
from the Vicar, who had been " a fine classic
in his day," and as he naturally loved books
and was of a quiet disposition he became so
proficient that the Reverend George Apple
warmly urged him to try for a scholarship at
Oxford. For a long time he had refused even
to attempt this feat. He declared that he
could not leave his mother. He feared he
could not win the scholarship. But the old
lady joined her importunities to those of the
Vicar. " They had not enough money to go on
for ever," she maintained, " and if John had
a degree he would always be able to turn his
hand to something at a pinch, and earn his
daily bread." Very much at a pinch, had the
dear old lady but known it !
" I can easily get some one to look after
me," said the old lady, " and it is very wrong
of me not to have sent you away before. You
are getting buried in this stupid place, and too
dreamy altogether, with no one here but that
grocer friend of yours to talk to."
" I wish Norman could come with me to
Oxford," said John. " It's wrong of me to
" My dear son, I can't have you consorting
with that sort of person all your life."
" I do hate that subject," protested John,
"My dear boy, you'll find the wisdom of
my words when you've seen a little more of
the world," said Mrs Gaffekin.
" Besides," interposed the Vicar, tactfully,
" College terms only account for half the year.
We shall see plenty of you down here."
So John got his scholarship and went to
Oxford, and Norman found himself rather
lonely. One day, three years ago, John had
begun to talk to him when he came into
Blaindon to buy tobacco, and since then they
had been continuously together, walking,
fishing and shooting all over the place, and
conversing on high and learned topics. That
is why Norman was an educated man after a
certain curious fashion. He was, however, no
mere counterpart of his friend. Left to him-
self, Norman had fire and intelligence enough
to make his mark. But the sudden wide
prospect opened up by all that golden world
8 THE KING OF ALSANDER
all those enchanted gardens that lie hid
between pasteboard covers had dazzled his
eyes and made him a most exceptional per-
son. He had plunged into everything, learnt
Latin and French, attempted Greek. There
were very few books that he read carefully;
hardly one would he read twice. " There
are so many more to read," he used to say.
No one could be less of a scholar, and the fine
points of characterization, the delicate shades
of metre and language, lay beyond his sphere.
But he loved all the books that are not
generally read; he could feel that such books
were peculiarly his own property or his own
discovery, and a habit of always reading books
that no one else has read is not a bad guide to
literature. All the works that glow with dark
frenzy, or with diabolical Rembrandt fires,
whose authors died nameless deaths or were
burnt for magic, all the fantastic tales about
new countries on the other side of mountains,
or happy islands in limitless seas, all stories
of the moon or stars were his especial delight
and continual joy. For he loved the Monk of
Monk Lewis, and this is a rare book to find,
and Vathek, and William Jordan, Junior,
greatest of unread modern books; and he
sang to himself the Gods of Pegana and
dreamed over its ethereal pictures, and he
loved the new Irish tales. And he adored that
mysterious wonder-story of the Golden Ass,
and its glittering precious style; and he read
Richepin's tales of the Roman decadence.
And he never wearied of James Thompson
(not of the " Seasons "), or of Baudelaire, or
of the great travel poems of the world from
the Odyssey to Waring.
And here, again, I must point the moral.
The egregious bad taste of this young man
was almost certainly the outcome of his low
antecedents. Stale romanticism is embedded
in the poorer classes. He liked his literature
garish and vivid, and with his insistent
passion for all the decadent stuff that used to
be in favour ten or twelve years ago, he could
never appreciate that really noble modern
literature, much of it dramatic, which tackles
so fearlessly and with such psychological
insight the problems of our industrial age.
In fact, he used to say that it might be
damned good, but it was damned boring.
Such is the obtuseness of the Philistine. He
was, moreover, no critic, as you may well
opine; he had not the fine taste of his friend,
but he fell the more readily under the spell
and domination of strange books; he was a
dreamer, and entertained ideas of his own,
which he would not have dared impart. Yet
this dreamer was a man of business, and
employed all the resources of a crude but
powerful imagination in the disposal of his
wares. How, then, could he help feeling a
10 THE KING OF ALSANDER
little weary of Blaindon, especially when
John was away at Oxford ? And on this after-
noon, on which I have promised that my
story should begin, he was sitting rather dis-
consolate in his shop, drowning care in the
delights of Conrad's Youth.
He had hardly been interrupted the whole
day, except for lunch. The sexton had been
in for some twine, and the Vicar's daughter
for some pink wool " to match the merino
mother bought yesterday." She was a pretty
girl, and Price almost aspired to marry her.
Had he only known it, the poverty-stricken
Mr Apple would have been only too glad, and
I do not think the young lady was at all
averse to Norman, whose beauty of person
and brilliance of mind made one forget his
unfortunate connexion with trade.
At about half-past three he shut the book
with a bang, heaved a disconsolate sigh to think
that the glorious tales were over, and stretched
himself. Then he slid off the counter and looked
down the high road to see if anything stirred
thereon. Straight, broad, white, glaring, over
the sleeping downs lay the deserted road that
led to Blaindon from the unseen Ocean, fit
for the trampling of armies and the shouting
of men, a road for caravans and caravans of
merchandise to traverse with bells a- jangle
while wagoners told the tales of wagoners
high perched on their creaking wains; yet a
road for modern life, ready for tramways to
glide along its hedges, and motor-cars to spin
down its smooth and cambered way; yet
perhaps chiefly an ancient road, down which
some herald would speed, his gold coat laced
with dust, his knees tight gripping his steam-
ing horse, with a message of war, disaster, or
relief. And down this mighty road came no
wagon, nor army, nor motor, nor herald: no
one save in the far distance a solitary walker,
small and lonely in the vast sunshine. Price
lazily watched the approaching figure. It
seemed to be that of an old man, but if so this
jold man was walking faster than any other
[old man in the world. At all events, Price
was already sure that he was no inhabitant
of Blaindon, and he therefore came out and
stood at his door to look at him.
It was indeed a tall, straight and singular
old man who came up some twenty minutes
later and halted opposite the Bon Marche,
resting on his stick. His long hair and beard
were of an almost dramatic whiteness, like
those of a Father Christmas in sugar. What
was seen of his face seemed smooth, and he
had surprisingly young, blue eyes. Afterwards,
one noticed his long archaic lips and the
beauty of his hands. His clothes, subordinate
as all clothes should be to the face, were yet
curious and distinctive. He wore a mauve
silk scarf, a sort of Norfolk jacket, a cricket-
12 THE KING OF ALSANDER
ing shirt, grey flannel trousers, and brown
boots with pointed toes. No collar, and no hat.
His stick was a stout partridge cane with a
silver nameplate. The old man stood opposite
Price and looked at him with fixed attention
for at least half a minute.
" Have you got any Navy Cut, sir ? " said
the old man.
" Mild or medium ? " said Norman, beating
a retreat into the shop to let the stranger
enter and to look for the tobacco.
" Strong, of course," bellowed the old man.
' What a voice he has ! " thought the grocer.
The new customer sat down on a chair and
threaded out the tobacco into an enormous
briar, looking curiously about him. Suddenly
" You don't mean to say that you keep
Menodoron Mixture here!' ! said he. "I
haven't been able to get any in this damned
county at all."
He tapped the Navy Cut out of his pipe,
swept it into his pouch, and seized hold of
the Menodoron tin. As he did so his eye lit
upon the Holbein. He gave a second start,
more violent than the first, a quick, vio-
lent spasm of his entire body, which made his
snowy beard flap like the handle of a water
" Hullo ! Where did you get that from ? r
" Georg Gisze ? He's a present from a friend
" And all those books and dictionaries, are
they for sale ? Have you a Grammar School in
this notable town ? ' !
c ' No, sir. I read them when business is slack. ' '
" Then what are you doing here ? " said the
old man, earnestly. " I can see you are not a
gentleman: you look too much like a god.
Tell me, what are you doing, with a library
like that, here in a grocer's shop, in this hor-
rible little village ? ' !
" Now, come, sir," said Norman, " it's a
picturesque old place, situated in charming
" Sir," replied the stranger, " I am a
travelled man; I am perhaps a trifle over-
proud of my great journeys. I have seen all
the Great Effects. I have clambered among
fearful crags to see the Euphrates, that old
river, burst through the Gate of Taurus. I
have seen the Alps from the Finsteraarhorn
below me, Niagara from the footpath above
me, night in the city, day in the desert, dawn
on the sea. I have seen the Little Effects: Nor-
mandy, Tasmania, the English Lakes. But
never on train, steamer, bicycle, tram, motor,
balloon, camel, horse, mule, or foot, have I
found such an unutterably dull place as
Blaindon. Forgive this rhetoric, purveyor of
sweetmeats, but be assured of its truth."
14 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" In all places, sir, there is a sky, a sun, and
" Where," pursued the stranger, " did you
learn to talk with that pure accent, vendor of
spices; or to frame such pleasant words?
What are you doing in this fantastic shop ? 9!
" Earning my living, sir. Nor is there any
mystery about my case. I have a friend, now
at Oxford, who gave me books to read and
taught me Latin."
" Are you contented ? Perfectly happy in
your sunlight and starlight ? Supremely satis-
fied with Catullus on the counter ? "
" As a rule, yes. But my friend is away at
present; there is no one to talk to, and these
wonderful stories " (he pointed to the book
lying face downward on the counter) " stir
the soul to travel."
" Well, why not travel, Lord of Things in
Tins ? Blaindon's no good for a man like you,
great enough to make castles out of his biscuit
tins, and fortifications out of washing soap."
And he pointed to Norman's window, which
was dressed that day with certain architec-
" I have been content with my dreams for
a long time," said Norman, with a little vulgar
pride in his poetic and pathetic phraseology.
" 1 am fond of dreams they are my best
" If you imagine I am going to be impressed
by that sort of Watts-Dunton talk you are
wrong; I'm going, " said the old man, as he
rose up from his chair.
" Sir ! " cried Norman; " you haven't paid
for the tobacco."
The old man sat down with a thump.
" I am a poet," he said, with deprecatory
grandeur. " And you aren't a cultured snob
after all, but something of a man. Have you
travelled at all, now ? Tell me."
Oh, yes, I go round the county a bit. On
market days I usually go over to Iffcombe
in the Marsh; it's quite lively there."
By the Queen of the Moon and the Sea
whom I worship and by the memory of your
mother whom I swear you have never known,
how dare you stand opposite me, a young man
with the face of a god, and blither about
jlffcombe in the Marsh ! Travel, man, over the
water, down south among the palms ! You've
got money ? "
A little, surely! 51
Only about a hundred pounds of my own,
" Only a hundred pounds ! Then go away
it before your friend borrows it off you
x> pay his Oxford bills. No, don't get wrath-
'ul; I'm an Oxford man myself and under-
Istaiid that curious world. A hundred pounds !
Why, I've never had a hundred pounds all at
16 THE KING OF ALSANDER
one time for many a year. How you can keep
a hundred pounds in your pocket or in the
bank, I do not know, when five pounds will
take you to the Alps, seven to Italy, twelve
to the Gulf of Corinth, thirty to Damascus,*
and fifty to Yokohama. You should clear
out of this rat-hole, young man, and that
immediately. Why not to-night ? as thunder-
ing Salvationists cry, desiring to save the soul.
That engagement, this duty, the other pro-
mise, este, ese, aquel, as the Spaniards have it,
leave it all and save your life, this is the Poet's
appeal, the Muse's command. You'll find a
kingdom somewhere, or a war, or an adven-
ture. I am a prophet, and the worshipper of a
Holy Lady. Now, good-bye."
He laid his hands on the boy's shoulders,
and looked at him dramatically. Then he
turned round, seized the tin of Menodoron and
" Two and sixpence," said Norman, calling
" Two and elevenpence, counting the Navy
Cut," said the poet, handing over the exact
sum. " You will certainly succeed, Mr Norman
* I should subjoin a word to prevent any enthusiastic
reader from taking the words of the old poet too seriously
and wasting thirty pounds in going to Damascus. It
is a very filthy town with electric trams and no drains.
The fares mentioned by the poet are of course third-
Price. So I will give you a good tip," he added
in a stage whisper. " Go straight to Alsander."
" Where's that ? " said Norman, but the
eccentric customer, without another word,
strode out of the shop, leaving him bewildered.
There was nothing to do in the shop; he tried
to re-arrange some shelves, but felt it was not
worth the trouble. He opened the Golden Ass
and found he could not progress without
looking up many exotic words, and the
dictionary was too heavy. Finally he sat down
on his counter, gazing at the sunswept fields
and lengthening shadows of the hedges. The
vast mournful light of the late afternoon
penetrated his spirit, and he felt, not for the
[first time, that unutterable sadness, that
[vague and restless longing for the Unknown
i and Impossible that it is the privilege of young
imen to feel. For many a youth this curious
i sense of unity with the earth is but a first
[awakening of amorous desire, and to such a
lone Venus comes quickly, with all her gentle
litrain. But there are a few who understand
their souls, or who have souls to understand,
i whose daydreams are fashioned of other
: delights and different imaginings.
So Norman began dreaming, at first as
[schoolboys dream of adventure, plot, swords-
Imanship, hidden treasures, dense jungles,
[heroic bravery, desperate efficiency and lost
rincesses. Then a poet's dream of hot suns,
18 THE KING OF ALSANDER
and open plains, and vast masses of swaying
colour. Then he bethought himself of a multi-
tude of pleasant practical schemes. John and
he had often talked of a bicycling tour in
Normandy. That would be inexpensive, but
now it seemed so tame an affair. What of this
delicately-named Alsander the Poet talked
of ? It sounded remote enough. To go some-
where where no one else had ever been would
be better than reading books no one else had
ever read. And one should go at an hour's
notice, without making any plans. What a
curiously-inspired man this old poet or artist
was! Quite mad, no doubt, with his Holy
Lady. And what did he mean by mentioning
Norman's mother? Norman had no gods; he
feared Death and loved Life. Well, since Life
is short, and since one is sure of nothing, shall
one not be bold ? To-night !
The old man's words thrilled him. If, as the
poet had suggested, a trumpet-voiced vul-
garian in black can save a drinker from dirt
and disease in a quarter of an hour, cannot a
radiant poet save a dreamer from stagnation
in ten minutes ? Norman began to think hard,
and his pulses were stirring for action, when
the bell rang behind the shop. It was time for
Norman, with no feeling of any bathos,
entered the parlour with the full intention ol
eating a hearty meal. He sat down opposite
old William Price and began to cut himself
enormous slices of bread. Meanwhile he
looked at his father, and studied the old man's
appearance carefully and cynically for the
first time in his life. We often take some of our
|near relations for granted (like the nursery
cuckoo clock or the cabbage-roses on the
porch), and we never become acutely con-
scious of their existence or individuality
unless they die, disappear, or make them-
selves offensive. Norman dispassionately scru-
tinized his father's stumpy red beard, curious
veiled eyes, and fireless, thin face, remembered
his equanimity and his shrewdness, and won-
dered with boyish shallowness and conceit
lor he knew less about his father than about
(the man in the moon what on earth he had
in common with such a man outside human
inature and the grocery business. The only
(recent change that Norman could observe in
jhis parent was that he had certainly become
'atter and more foolish since he had left his
son to do all the grocery work. The lad was
sure that the one salvation for his father would
be to take the business on again, and his idea
3f effecting a dramatic departure for a time,
least grew almost a resolve.
Usually Norman never told his father any-
thing that could possibly puzzle or worry the
3xeellent old gentleman, and had maintained
he rule that the elder generation is the last
20 THE KING OF ALSANDER
place where the new should expect sym-
pathy. However, for want of something to talk
about, Norman observed that a most peculiar
person, describing himself as a poet, had been
in the shop and had tried to persuade him to
" To travel, eh ? " said WiUiam Price.
" What in ? "
" Oh, he meant abroad."
" I've n'er bin abroa'," said the honest old
fellow, stifling his words in large mouthf uls of
ham. " But I bin 'sfuras Wales."
" I'm longing to go," said Norman, " and I
will go, too."
" Ah, yes," said the old man, paying no
serious attention, as he leaned back in his
wooden armchair. " I've often wanted to see
it myself. Used to live down by the sea in Kent,
and I was always wunnering what was the
other side, and thinking I saw France, but it
was only the clouds. I'm glad I never went
there though; they say it's a very irreligious
Norman finished his meal in silence and
folded up his napkin.
" Good night, father," he said, as he g<
up from his chair, leaving the old man sti
hard at work. " I expect you'll want to get 1
sleep now, it's been a tiring day."
" Indeed it has," said William Pric
" Indeed it has."
" I'm going out for a stroll," said Norman,
at the door.
" Oh, we understand," gurgled Mr William
Price after him, with a wink. " Young rip ! "
he added complacently as he continued his
But when, his meal finished, he began to
doze in the armchair by the fire, even his
confident son might have been startled to see
him open his wide dark eyes, unfilmed, and
! smile as though he saw Paradise dawn upon
Norman walked up and down the village
street, as though he hoped that the moon,
Whose silver bow hung listlessly above, would
send some barbed messenger of watery fire
to confirm him in a resolution. Whether
indeed the celestial lady did touch him some-
bow, or whether his vanity and naughty desire
to startle the villagers was not more powerful,
[ cannot say; but in a few minutes a strange
^decided mood swept over him, and when
si quarter of an hour later he swung into the
Blaindon Arms it was as a man resolved to
For neither business nor inclination had
ever permitted Norman to lose touch with
iihese heroes of the soil, the Blaindon working
olass. They were honest, strenuous, interesting
fellows, a little too full perhaps of local colour.
(Though they were a little jealous of him,
22 THE KING OF ALSANDER
they were a kindly folk and bowed naturally
to his superior wealth. Superior intellect they
did not allow him to possess. For them he
was a bright boy who'd got " notions."
He greeted little Nancy at the bar as a
habitu6 should, and asked for the time-table.
" Surely ye aren't goin' anywhere this tame
o' nate," murmured John Oggs.
" Yes, I am," said Norman. " I'm just off
abroad. And I've come to say good-bye."
" What ! " said old Canthrop, a person who
combined the functions of village patriarch
and village imbecile, and was, in accordance
with the universal custom of savage com-
munities, almost worshipped in consequence.
"What!" he repeated, making the mono-
syllable rhyme with hat. " Aiy didn't know:
no one tould me ! "
" Well, you're the first to know as usual,
Mr Canthrop. The old man doesn't know
' What ! " said old Canthrop, almost shriek-
ing, " not tould yer feyther ? Not tould yer
feyther that yer goin' away ? ' !
He rocked convulsively in his chair.
" Isn't that rather sudden of you, Mr
Price?" said pleasant Nancy, simpering.
She was a great friend of Norman's, and her
voice was a little tremulous as she asked her
Thomas Bodkin, the sexton, who passed for
a man of the world, and was drinking airily
at the bar, leaned over and whispered very
audibly, " It's a scrape, Nancy . . . these young
dogs . . . must let 'em sow their oats . . . eh,
what ? ... We know."
Mr Bodkin's jerky mouthfuls passed in the
inn for nimble elocution, his metaphors for the
delicious slang of an old and experienced
" Gawd! " ejaculated John Oggs, who was
sitting behind him, " ye have it there, man,
ye have it there ! "
6 c What nonsense!" said Norman. "You
don't imagine I should run away from
trouble, do you? Or that I should be likely
to get into trouble ? Or that if I did I should
be such a fool as to tell you anything about it ? "
" Why did you, then ? " said Thomas Bodkin.
A roar of laughter greeted this vivacious sally.
Price looked round with rather priggish dis-
gust. It was more than he could stand, this
asinine mockery. " I came to say good-bye,"
" Till to-morrow, eh ? " said the sexton.
" You will not see me to-morrow," said
" See now, Mr Price," pursued the sexton,
"there are no more trains. None between
five this evening and 10.30 to-morrow, except
on markets when the 8.15 goes to Iff combe.
24 THE KING OF ALSANDER
Another peal of laughter, during which
Norman disappeared, a baffled Byron, punished
by the native humour of honourable working
men for trying to produce a cheap effect.
But his resolution had received its final
confirmation. He could not face the ridicule
of the morrow. He hurried back at once to the
shop, and there on the counter wrote a concise
note to his father. He thought it unnecessary
to condole or excuse. He knew how delightful
it would be for the old man to have anything
happen to him at all, how he would enjoy
being the centre of sympathetic interest in
the village, and how thoroughly good it would
be for his moral character to get back to
business. He then took the Post Office Savings
Bank book from the safe. There were ninety
pounds odd in it, entered in his name, the
profits that had accrued during his two years'
management of the shop. Perhaps it was not
strictly his; his father had established the
business, and provided the initial stock. But
then his father had laid by enough to keep
him even in food for the next ten years, and
Norman had done the work. It is the young
who want money; Norman had never been
able to see the object of saving money with
immense toil over against the day when one
should become infirm, insane, or dead. He
uttered a vigorous oath against the Post Office
system, which means a day's delay in with-
drawal, sent the book up to headquarters at
once, asking that it should be sent him by
return to the Central Post Office, Southamp-
ton, posted it in the box opposite, and then
considered what he ought to pack. He took a
change of raiment, and then looked lovingly
at the ponderous tomes on his shelves. Only
the smallest could go with him.
" After all," said Norman, " I have read all
these once. New lands, new books, and I am
not going away for what John would call a
Finally he took no book with him save a
little Elzevir Apuleius, and packed it with
all his other effects on his bicycle carrier and
in the saddle-bag. Just as he was mounting
one more thought troubled him. Would he not
be terribly lonely? If only John could come
too! "No," he said, arguing to himself, "my
life must not consist of John. If I'm lonely
I shall have to discover for myself new com-
panions in new countries."
It was a splendid night. He set off down the
High Street, on the main road to Southamp-
ton in a state of perilous exultation. Smoothly
and quickly the tyred wheels bore him on
out to infinity. The door of the Blaindon Arms
stood open, and as he rolled noiselessly by he
could hear Canthrop summing up his view of
the situation for the fiftieth time,
" Bloody silly, I call it," said the old man,
" bloody silly!"
Know'st thou the land where bloom the lemon trees,
And darkly gleam the golden oranges ?
A gentle wind blows down from that blue sky . . .
WITH a spear of golden light and gradual
splendour Dawn rose on her triumphal car.
In winter men rise up to welcome her advent:
wives cast off sleep and light fires in her
honour; the good citizens draw the curtains
to gaze out upon her beauty, stretching their
lazy limbs. In winter Dawn arises to the
sound of chattering and bustle, the herald of
man's work in town and field. But in summer
only the grey mists and the light- winged birds
listen to her as she rings the bells of day.
Norman had seen new lands and cities, and
had been wandering on foot for many weeks
to south and east admiring all things, but
never so satisfied with what he saw as to rest
for a single day. At the first glimmer of light
he leapt to his window, and whether Dawn
rose broken upon the peaks or solemn on the
plain, whether she wandered mysteriously
down old winding streets, or set the city
square clattering and clanging, it was early,
ever early, that our heroic traveller left his
mean abode to seek the unexpressed, un-
known, ever-receding city of his heart's
One night as he was trudging along he met
a tramp, whose face he could hardly make out
beneath the stars, who, learning that he was
bound to Alsander, talked to him in English
passionately of the beauties of that country,
recommended him to learn its language, and
then disappeared into the gloom. This con-
firmed the boy in his definite aim, and day
after day he approached this certain goal,
fired by the eloquence of the mysterious
stranger. This night, being among the high
mountains, he had found no inn; however,
undaunted, he lay down on the roadside for
an hour or two, then rose and strode on, pack
on shoulder, through the shadows. Who could
be tired of walking with the mountain wind
ahead, the dim white road beneath, and the
joy of watching for the dawn! "Ah!" he
thought, " how I pity the six-legged at their
desks ! What for them is the sunrise curtain to
the drama of a day ? How indeed should they
greet it, save with a cry of pain and a curse
upon the light ? But I will wander on."
Now had come that shining moment of
Eternity when Aurora unravels the folds of
her saffron robe across the sky and bares her
wounded breast to the blue of morning. The
28 THE KING OF ALSANDER
boy swung round a corner of the highway, and
suddenly beheld the valley far below. He saw
quiet forests of tall golden trees and meadows
so rich with gentian and wild pansy that even
at that far height he could see them shine. To
his left, at the edge of the plain, lay spear-
sharp mountains, a little darker than the
skies, whose distant hollows and tortuous
cones ever hinted at the mystery of the next
valley and the joy of things unseen. He saw
the thin torrent which tumbled down in
cascades behind the wall become a quiet and
solemn river below leading to a curved strip
of sea, of an intense unearthly colour,
southern, fantastic, beyond all belief, and the
sound of rushing waters seemed the only
sound in the world. But most surprising of
all, on a rocky mound between the mountains
and the bay rose the white city of Alsander,
with her legendary towers and red roofs all
dreaming in the sunlight. In such deep slumber
lay that perfect city, the boy held the very
sight of it to be a dream. For there surely
dwelt the good King and the bad King, the
younger son and the three princesses, the
dwarf, the giant and the gnome. Surely in
those blue mountains lurked and lolled the
devastating dragon who came down for his
yearly toll of maiden flesh; surely in that
blue sea swam all the shoal of nereids and
dolphinous fishy beings whose song is dan-
gerous to men. Thus appeared the city of
Alsander to Norman as he gazed at it over the
wall in silence. " Blessings on the head of that
wonderful old tramp," said Norman, " who
told me Alsander was the loveliest place in
Europe and directed my steps on this glorious
path; wherever he may be may joy attend
him, so boldly did he bear the weight of
years." Then down he went on his way again,
humming to himself,
" Know'st thou the land where bloom the
lemon trees ? "
and the birds were frightened of his deep voice
and the little green lizards fled up the walls as
he strode on down the hill.
Many men can only enjoy beauty when
they face it alone. These dark and solitary
aesthetes love to ramble on the most horrible
downs and heaths at intempestival morning
hours, drinking in the miserable and fearsome
aspect of the world. One such has said to me
that he would walk half a day to avoid meet-
ing a friend. I fear, too, that these characters
consider their misanthropic tastes a self-
evident mark of their superiority over the
mass of men, who, herding together with
vivacious chatter, much love-making, and
explosion of corks, crowd to the prettiest
places they know to enjoy Bank Holiday.
Your lonely man claims a special communion
30 THE KING OF ALSANDER
with God or with the Spirit of Nature, or
with the Rosicrucian mysteries of his own soul,
so that his ramble becomes a sacrament, puri-
fying by pity, terror and love. Norman was
a little above this sort of rubbish: he felt
dimly the cruelty of beauty and the menace
of solitude. This sent him moving and set him
longing longing very definitely for human
companionship. Thus he fell short of the self-
sufficient man recommended by Aristotle, for
which the reader may devoutly praise the
But the stilted style of this century can ill
express the fluctuations of our hero's feelings.
" Who is there " (I should have written in
1820), "or what man of feeling and imagina-
tion can be found, who, upon contemplating
the ineffable grandeur and unspeakable ma-
jesty of Nature, does not ardently aspire to
hold at the same moment communion with
some divinely tender female heart, to read in
those liquid eyes his own reflections purged
of their dross and transmuted into gold, to
press those sensitive fingers and thereby lose
himself in rapture among the gorgeous scenes
that astonish and confound his gaze, to seal
those fluttering lips with the memory of an
unforgettable moment ? "
To resume the use of the English language,
Norman felt lonely, and for that very reason
paid particular attention to the only figures
discernible in the landscape. He came down
and the figures came up, three companions
they seemed to be. But presently Norman
made out that the central figure was a girl, and
her two shining companions were only the two
pails she carried, slung from a yoke that
passed behind her neck. " Life for me," said
Norman to himself, as he and the girl drew
near to each other at the combined rate of six
miles an hour, " is crude marble, and I have
come here to carve it into flowers, and the
flowers of youth are the fairest of them all."
Pleased with this ingenuous comparison, he
looked up with a smile, and discovered that
the neck which bore the yoke was a shapely
one, and that there in front of him, not fifty
yards away, stood a young girl, with her pails
clanking at her side. She was dressed in a
white frock and her head was covered with a
white kerchief edged with gold.
The reader now dreads the inevitable love
scene, and I, too, feel that an apology is needed.
For so many novelists, ballad-makers, jon-
gleurs, troubadours, minstrels, poets, and
bards have sung the praises of perfect, adorable
arid captivating ladies that I am inclined to
lament with one of them that
I have sung all love's great songs
And have no new songs to sing,
But I'll sing the old songs again.
32 THE KING OF ALSANDER
And so I will. We will have those old songs
again, for I will not give my heroine " plain
but interesting features " or " a noble rather
than beautiful countenance with intellect
shining in her eyes," or even in a candid
moment declare her to possess " a haunting
plainness all her own." But apart from all
this there is the truth to consider, and this
young girl was assuredly one of the most
perfect women God ever made by accident
or Satan by design.
For she stood there in front of him in the
radiant, dancing, dewy morning, happy and
unperturbed, in her gracious half-human
beauty, not majestic, not passionate, not
mysterious, but unreal from her very loveli-
ness, a nymph, not of the woods or rivers, but
of the sea yet not of the tempestuous main
no tall sad siren of a treacherous rock, but a
sweet, young pleasant nymph from a bay
where the sun is always shining, a sea-sand
nymph not unacquainted with flowers.
For when I would deal with her face and
body, all those feeble, pretty comparisons
whereby the pen of the writer strives to emu-
late the brush of the painter, must be of the
sea or of flowers. Her dark hair, fringed against
the gold lace of her scarf but those same
painters (whom all we word-workers envy
bitterly but dare not say so) have shown how
many confluent colours hyacinth and blue
and red and deep red gold, gleam in the
shadowy hollows of the hair we fools call dark.
. . . Dark ! As the sea-water in a sunlit bay
lies dark between two little island rocks yet
ripples in the wind, and the sea flowers turn it
red along the marge and the depths glow
violet in the midst, and the sunshine is all
hear but hidden am I not now describing
the dark hair of a lovely woman ?
" But her eyes, poor poet, her eyes are
they not also pools of the salt sea ? ' !
Not the eyes of this lass, my gentle friend.
Her eyes were of finer and subtler essence
than the heavy water of the sea. They were
blue which is ever most wonderful with dark
lashes, dark brows and sea-dark hair but
not the dark blue of a rock pool nor yet quite
the light broken blue of the blinking waves in
the calm and brilliant bay. Her eyes were of a
light dry fire the blue not of sea nor of sky,
but rather of the glowing air that swims about
the idle fisher's boat hour after hour on summer
days. So that you could not tell if they were
deep eyes or light wayward eyes, those little
gay discs of laughing sunlit air.
And her countenance, that was a sweet rose
and jasmine garden but always, I would
have you remember, a garden that blossoms
by the sea, with vistas of the bay down every
alley of the roses, and gleams of blue water
glinting behind the trellis of the jasmine, and
34 THE KING OF ALSANDER
the sea air slightly touching the colour of all
the flowers. Have you not seen the flowers
in that Italian picture that are flung round
Venus as she rises from the sea! Even so a
little paler than the brave inland flowers were
the jasmine and roses in the garden of the
countenance of this lovely girl.
And her body? Can I tell you its secret?
Ah, never: but as you leave the garden
pluck one tendril from the vine.
* * * *
Her light, gracious, flowing beauty trans-
ported the boy to the days he had read of,
the days when the world was young. The
chains of commerce and the shackles of class,
as it were, the last tatters of his black
British clothes fell from him. Looking at her,
She evidently took that smile as a greeting
intended for her, for she seemed to wait for
him to come down and to be in no hurry with
' Good morning," she cried to him as he
approached, in the honeyed and somewhat
languorous speech of Alsander.
" Good morning," said Norman. " May I
help you with the water? " Alsandrian is an
easy, simple, and sonorous language, and
Norman had been learning it and talking it
to himself ever since the tramp he met in the
night had directed his thoughts and footsteps
toward the country of Alsander, yet he was
very shy at practising for the first time this
" Ah, I thought you were a foreigner," said
the girl, speaking with the strained simplicity
and slight mispronunciation that we all of us
employ for the benefit of strangers and infants.
" What is your country and your home ? "
" England ? Why you are the first English-
man I have ever seen! How beautiful you
are ! 9!
Norman smiled, unable, and indeed unwil-
ling, to deprecate his personal appearance.
"It is you who are beautiful," he said,
slowly, labouring with the strange tongue.
" Are they all like you in Alsander ? "
" Do you think it possible ? ' !
She drew herself up with such grace that
Norman's arms twitched and ached. But he
was rather in awe of her.
" How bright your eyes are! " he said.
" Are they ? What colour do you think they
are ? " she asked, turning them full on him.
" They are blue. I have never seen such blue
eyes in my life before."
" You are quite sure that they are not
green ? v
Norman was not at all sure that they were
not: they seemed to him to change colour
like little bright clouds, and shone at that
3 THE KING OF ALSANDER
moment like a lustrous emerald. But he
simply said that they were not green, as he
could only make very simple phrases in the
language of Alsander.
" Are you going to stay long in this coun-
try ? " inquired the girl.
" I think I shall have to."
He carved a dust pattern with his stick
quite nervously, daring no more to look at her
eyes. He asked her name.
" Peronella," she said. " And yours ? '
" My name is Norman."
" Nor-mano, how nice! " said the girl, who
seemed to think that this bashful northerner
needed encouragement. " Normano. I shall
always call you Normano."
"Always ? " saidNorman, looking up quickly.
The shameless maiden hung her head with
a rosy blush as though she had been caught
in an indiscretion, as though the word had
slipped from her unawares. But even at six
in the morning, a sane though splendid
hour, Norman, that reserved young English-
man, considered such encouragement sufficient.
He went deliberately and took the pails off
the girl's shoulders, as though he were
going to help her, and the moment they had
clattered on the road, he embraced this
adorable girl from behind and kissed her
ravenously.&The kiss fell some two inches
below her left ear.
She stood very stiff, flushed and angry;
but Norman simply maintained his pressure
till her whole body unstiffened. Norman had
adopted to good purpose the principle that
returns the penny-in-the-grip machine and
secures for Britain her extensive Empire.
By this time they had become thoroughly
nervous of each other. They sat down side
by side on the wall near the spring. Norman
ruffled his hair in embarrassment. Peronella
murmured something about Fate. Norman
inwardly disagreed; he did not think he ought
to blame (or thank) Fate for the present con-
c Where are you going to stay ? " asked the
girl at last.
" As near you as possible."
" But don't you really know ? "
" I know nothing. I am just a stranger, and
I have come here for a ... for a ... damn/' said
Norman in English to himself, " what's the
word for a holiday ? for a rest."
c You don't look as if you wanted a rest,
and you won't get it if you stay near me."
" Not rest," said Norman, " not rest exact-
ly, but . . . amusement. Peronella, you know
how hard it is to talk a foreign tongue. I have
learnt Alsandrian in a book, but I have never
talked a word of it before."
c You talk it very nicely indeed; it is
charming to hear you. It is not at all pleasant
38 THE KING OF ALSANDER
for us to hear men from Ulmreich talking
Alsandrian. They make a horrible harsh noise,
although they talk very carefully. But I think
the lazy way you pronounce your o's and e's
is charming ..."
" / think," said Norman, looking at his
watch with a smile, " that it is just twenty
minutes since I first saw you and already
' " WeU ? "
" I love you very much." He meant only
to say " I like you very much," but in southern
lands the linguistic distinction does not
The girl seized him by the wrists.
" Don't say things like that, you devil,"
she cried, " especially if you do not mean it.
Yes, say it even if you do not mean it; I love
to hear you saying it. But be very careful. We
are not like heathen women."
" I mean it ! " said Norman, perforce.
" Normano, did you treat all other girls
like this in England, and do you think I allow
other men ..."
" It will be quite different," faltered Nor-
" Say it again!' 1
" Peronella, I really love you."
Norman could not conceal a little yawn
in his voice even at the moment of making
this startling declaration; his eyes were
heavy with light and he had walked for many
hours. The girl perceived at once.
"Why, you are quite tired!" she said,
" and talking fearful nonsense. You must
come and find a room at once. Have you been
walking long ? "
" Four or five hours," said Norman.
" You curious person, to go walking in the
night. Where have you come from ? ' !
" From Braxea. I had my supper in the
inn last night, and I've been walking ever
' What a pace you must have put on ! Why,
it's ever such a way away. Braxea ? Why, it's
right over the mountains on the frontier.
Those long legs ! " she added, pointing to them
with a laugh. " No wonder they go far. I have
never seen such long legs, except on a grass-
hopper. And now you will walk into Alsander.
But you have not yet answered my question.
Where are you going to stay in our city ? "
" I don't know a bit, beautiful girl, as I told
you. Perhaps you can find me a place, not far
away from you."
" Ah, perhaps I might," said she, " and
perhaps I might not. I do not think you would
be an agreeable neighbour."
" Ah, why not ? Should I trouble and annoy
* You have no idea how to behave, none at
all," murmured Peronella.
40 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" Oh, I will learn," cried the boy, " if you
will teach me."
" And you will promise never, never again
to squeeze my breath out in that awful
" Faithfully I will promise everything you
" Why, then," said Peronella, rising up,
with her eyes sparkling, "you had better
come and live with my mother and me.
We have a little pension and we want a
" What ? " said Norman, not trusting him-
self to have understood.
" Come and live with my mother
and me, that is, if you like."
" Peronella, I am afraid." And indeed
the boy was really getting seriously frightened
of this persistent maiden.
" But will you come ? Or will you not have
enough rest or amusement? Perhaps you
would rather stay at the Palace Hotel. Most
foreigners do. Ours is a very poor house. But
the Palace Hotel is not really a palace. Will
you come ? It would be much less expensive for
you, and we have no mosquitoes, and mother
" How dare you ask me, you mad girl ?
You must think we live in snow houses and
get our hearts frozen up in the north. Let us
go at once ! "
He made as if to accompany her, highly
pleased at his proficiency in Alsandrian.
" No, no," said the girl. " That will never
do. People are beginning to get up now and
would say all sorts of things. You do not know
what tongues they have, the old women of
the town. I should be shamed and ruined.
But I have a beautiful plan. You must walk
about thirty yards behind me and follow me
Norman shook his head at her, not under-
standing. It is so much easier to be metaphori-
cal than to be practical in a foreign tongue.
If you do not understand what I mean,
consider a moment. You possess, let us say,
a little knowledge of Italian, without tears.
You are in a restaurant at Rome, and two
Counts are discussing at the next table. To
your delight you comprehend them perfectly.
The Count with the white imperial has just
observed, " La vera educazione, il segreto del
progresso umano, e ideale." You admire the
limpidity of his thought, the purity of his
enunciation, and your own knowledge of a
tongue so recently acquired. Then comes the
infernal waiter with his coarse, plebeian ac-
cent. Where are you now? Minestra, cipolle,
rombo, sermone is the old Count going to
preach one ? Holding back the scalding tears
of shame, you feed the brute with English.
Norman's obtuseness dismayed the girl.
42 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" Oh, dear! " said she. " You don't under-
stand a word. You are dreadfully stupid. What
shall I do? Ah, I know!"
Laughing merrily, she picked up two peb-
bles, one longer than the other.
c You," she said, " and me."
Then she thrust Norman's stick into the
grass to represent home, she explained. Then,
kneeling down and pulling Norman beside her,
she made the pebbles walk after her at even
distances towards the stick. She made the
short pebble trip along lightly with a mincing
gait, while the tall one paced behind in gigan-
tic strides, reverent and slow. At the stick she
put another great pebble, squat and dumpy,
to do duty for Mamma. The lady pebble
tapped at the door and was admitted; the tall
pebble thumped a few minutes afterwards;
it talked inquiringly to the dumpy pebble,
bowed to the graceful pebble, and finally (so
Norman contrived to the girl's vast delight)
kissed that graceful pebble rapturously behind
the squat one's back."
" Now," said she, " do you understand,
you stupid ? "
Norman understood the little pantomime.
She started off. He had to call her back for her
forgotten pails. Norman filled them and placed
them lovingly on her back. She went a full
hundred yards ahead, and then waved her
hand, nearly spilling her pails as she did so.
He followed, rather frightened, very thrilled,
and overwhelmingly tired.
Not otherwise did the Ithacan follow
Na^-iriaa into the city of the Phceacians whose
ships went wisely in the waves.
EN PENSION IN ALSANDER
You, sweet, have the power
To make me passionate as an April day;
Now smile, then weep; now pale, then crimson red ;
You are the powerful moon of my blood's sea.
The Witch of Edmonton
NORMAN followed, through the crumbling
gateway, past an old fountain half buried in
roses, up narrow tortuous ways at the back
of a huge cathedral. Then he came to a street
of steps. The town was beginning to awake.
Little boys and girls had begun to play on
the thresholds with portentous solemnity;
half-naked men were washing their brown
bodies at the pumps; and from the newly
opened shutters many a glittering eye mar-
velled at the fair-haired stranger, as though
he were some adventurous prince from the
fantastic North, where it snows one half the
year and rains the other, and red devils dance
and moan in the perpetual fog.
Norman saw Peronella disappear inside a
house in the distance; he came up to it and
entered. The staircase was a long one, and
there were innumerable doors. However, he
EN PENSION IN ALSANDER 45
proceeded up the very dirty steps as long as
the splashings from the pail guided him on-
wards. ' 'She cannot have much water left in that
pail," thought Norman. At last the splashing
ceased by a door whereon hung the notice:
" VIDVIISTO PRASKO
CAMBRI PRO LTJI,"
signifying, as even Norman apprehended,
that the lady of the house, a widow, would
let rooms. Behind the door he heard Peronella
chattering with exaggerated vigour. He rang,
and the girl opened, scanned him up and
down with mild astonishment (a piece of
delicate acting, for which there was no reason
whatever, as her mother, the widow Prasko,
was busy clanking pans in the kitchen), and
asked him what he wanted.
" I want to live here in a room," was the
" Wait a minute then, sir; I will speak to
mother about it."
She shut the door in his face with a crashing
slam, and ran into the kitchen.
" Mother," she said, in an impartial voice,
as soon as there was a lull in the clanking of
the kettles, " here is a foreign gentleman
wanting a room."
" AnUlmreicher?' !
" I don't know where he comes from; but
I am sure he is not from Ulmreich."
46 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" Because, you know," said the old lady,
" however poor we may be, I could not stand
having one of those people in the house: I
simply hate them. They want all the floors
cleaned with petroleum every day, and if
there's a flea in the bed they curse one as if
one were a beggar. It's no good, Peronella. I
don't want any foreigners here, male or
female. I never met a foreigner who was not
much more interested in the way his room was
dusted than in the style his food was cooked.
Tell him to go away."
" You had really better look at him first,
mother. He looks such a very nice foreigner,
and not a bit like an Ulmreicher. And though
he is very dusty, I noticed he had a gold watch
" Well, well, girl, wait a bit and I'll come
and see him. But I won't have one of those
dirty Ulmreich pigs coming here and fussing
about the fleas."
Norman, waiting outside the door, heard,
even understood, the widow's remarks, for
she nearly always spoke at the top of her
voice, and invariably acted on the assump-
tion, usually justifiable, that no foreigner
could speak more than three words of Alsan-
drian. Yet he observed that the old lady's
screech was not altogether unpleasant; it was,
at all events, a peculiarly powerful noise. When
the widow at length appeared at the door, a
EN PENSION IN ALSANDER 47
gigantesque apparition, he felt her to be
striking enough to have a superior voice, or
even to be the mother of Peronella. True,
her face was wrinkled like an old lemon, or
like a raised map of some uncharted country
on the invisible side of the moon; and the
vast cylinder of blue apron that she wore was
not calculated to palliate either the rugosity
of her face or the extreme fatness of her body.
Yet for all her monstrous appearance she
walked well, and had regular features, which
suggested that neither her intelligence nor her
will had disappeared, and had once been
wedded to beauty.
" Do you come from Ulmreich ? " she said
to Norman in the language of that country,
scanning him up and down.
Norman, though he knew enough Ulm-
reichan to master the import of her question,
pretended not to understand, and stood
" Where do you come from ? " the widow
pursued in Alsandrian.
" From England."
" Ah, from England. I never knew anyone
from England, but when I was in Ulmreich
I met an American whose name I have for-
gotten, but he was a nice man, in a good line of
business, till he died. And how long have you
been in Alsander ? 9!
" I have only just arrived."
48 THE KING OF ALSANDER
4 You have only just arrived. And you talk
the language ? "
" I learnt it on my way."
" And how did you find out my house, if
you have only just arrived ? We do not adver-
tise: we are not a regular pension. Only it
happens we sometimes let a room."
" I was wandering round looking for a
room, and some one directed me here."
" Now who could that be ? "
" Oh, I don't know. A little man round the
"I wonder who it was. Was it a little cobbler
with red hair ? That would be Simone. Did
you notice if he had red hair ? ?!
" I don't know," said Norman, inwardly
consigning the old girl to perdition. " He wore
a felt hat."
" Ah, Simone has no hat," said the Widow
Prasko. " And have you any luggage ? "
" It is coming on by train."
" Did you not come by train yourself ? ' !
" No," said Norman, crossly. " I have
walked all night, from Braxea, and I am very
tired. Please give me a room or refuse a room
and send me away, at once."
" Ah, forgive me," said the widow, quite
courteously, " but I have a daughter in the
house, and I must ask questions. And, of
course, you must be either very mad or very
poor or you would not have walked from
EN PENSION IN ALSANDER 49
Braxea, and if you had walked you would have
gone to the hotel."
" Do I look like the sort of man who would
misbehave with your daughter ? " said Nor-
" Oh, I don't mind how you behave with
her. But you might want to marry her, and I
should not like her to marry a poor man."
" I am fairly rich," said Norman, " but I
have not seen your daughter long enough to
decide about marriage."
" You are rich and you want to find a room
here ? "
" Yes, please."
" And food?"
" Yes, food, too."
" You will find it rather simple living. You
would live much better at the hotel."
" I would rather be here," said Norman.
" I like to have people to talk to; I do not like
" Well, you might as well come in and see
She showed him a small bedroom, almost
entirely filled by an enormous curtained bed.
It was a pretty room, papered in pale blue,
ornamented with cuttings from French illus-
trated papers, a statuette of a nakedish lady
apparently eight feet high, called Mignon,
an oleograph representing a romantic northern
castle surrounded by impossible waterfalls,
50 THE KING OF ALSANDER
and a clock which had been for many years
too tired to work. Peronella it was who drew
up the sunblinds and let in the pure air, for
which the room thirsted. There was a view
over the red roofs right out to sea.
Norman expressed himself delighted. He
settled the terms, and paid in advance for a
month. He arranged to have meals with the
family; he did not want to be lonely, and
wanted to learn Alsandrian. All this obviously
pleased the old lady, and Norman, too tired
even to walk about in the city, shut himself
up and slept, to the disgust of Peronella, till
the late afternoon.
His bag awaited him at the station a mile
away, down on the plain on the land side of
the rock. He walked there to get it, still too
sleepy to look round him and enjoy the new-
ness of things, and carried it painfully back.
He tried that evening to clothe himself as
fashionably as he could. He succeeded, at all
events, in a country where the proper use of
the starched linen collar and its concomitant
tie is practically unknown, in impressing
the Vidvino Prasko, who in her turn took
great care to let him know that she was of old
family and good education, and had been
Maid of Honour to the last Queen of the
country. And so she rambled on, giving Nor-
man, who was eager to hear about the country,
an .account even of its history and commerce,
EN PENSION IN ALSANDER 51
and left him greatly surprised at the extent of
her knowledge. She had been brought up in the
Palace itself, in the good old times, as she
said, sighing, and knew more than most. For
herself, she had a little pension from the
Government. "It is worth no one's while to
steal it," she observed, " and, besides, I have
my daughter, whom I bring up most care-
fullydon't I, Peronella ? "
Peronella, who had discarded her white frock
and now appeared in what had better only be
described as her " Sunday Best," blushed
modestly and hung her head beautifully.
Norman, however, was not pleased, but rather
disappointed to find she was not the peasant
girl he had thought her, but a half-educated
young lady with ideas. Troubled, he looked at
her again. She was still there, still beautiful,
still charming; but, alas ! how the spell of the
morning was broken ! The nymph who stood
before him, the very spirit of Nature, some
few hours ago had had lessons in geography
and fancy needlework, could even play the
piano. She had almost the same accomplish-
ments as those he and all Blaindon had
admired in the pretty daughter of Mr Apple.
And yet she was there opposite him, still
beautiful, still charming. . .
Soon after dinner the old lady declared
herself sleepy and departed, admonishing
Peronella not to stay up too late.
52 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" That's just like mother," said the girl.
" She's taken a fancy to you all at once
and goes off, leaving me alone with you as if
you were a pet lamb instead of a . . ."
" Lascivious lion," suggested Norman. " By
the way, Peronella ..."
" Peronella, have you any more lovers ? "
" How fond you are of repeating my name !
Of course I have. Do I look as if I hadn't ? He is
called Cesano. He will be coming soon. He
will certainly try to kill you. Do you mind ? ' 1
" Being killed."
" Of course, I should hate it."
" You silly fellow. I mean, you aren't
afraid ? ' !
" I am deadly afraid of being killed, so soon
after meeting you."
" Would you kill somebody for me if I asked
you to ? "
" Yes, unless I was likely to be hanged for
" I don't believe you're at all brave, or
very fond of me, after all."
" I am rather frightened of you, Peronella,
at all events."
Some time after, a ring at the bell inter-
rupted some similar inane, mock-passionate
EN PENSION IN ALSANDER 53
" You were talking about my lovers, dear
Normano," said the girl. " If you want to see
one, you have only to wait here while I open
the door. Now, if that's Cesano, as I suppose
it is, there will be fireworks. Be careful,
Normano; he's a rival. Alsandrian lovers are
not like English. They have hot blood in their
veins. Listen, how he rings. He is angry
already. Oh, Normano, go into your bed-
room. It would be dangerous for you to stay
" Nonsense; I have come to stay. Do you
think I am frightened? I am longing to see
this very passionate man and to learn how I
ought to make love.
She undid the door and Cesano entered.
He was a dark individual, a few years older
than Norman, with a bulging forehead, and a
black moustache. He looked very much like an
English maidservant's idea of a typical Spa-
niard, being, furthermore, dressed in one of
those horrible colour-combinations in velvet
and silk that we English, perhaps the best-
dressed people in the world, find so charmingly
picturesque and so essentially artistic.
" Good evening, Cesano; let me introduce
you to our new lodger, an Englishman."
The two men bowed to each other without
saying a word. Cesano wasted no time.
" Are you coming out ? " he said.
"I should like to, Cesano, but I can't
54 THE KING OF ALSANDER
possibly leave a stranger quite alone for his
first night in Alsander, can I ? ' :
" Oh, he looks as if he could look after him-
self, that great pink-faced lout of an English-
man. Besides, what does he matter ? And he
must be tired if he has only just arrived."
" I am not at all tired," said Norman. " I
have been asleep all day."
Cesano gasped. 'It had never crossed his
mind that a foreigner could understand a
word of the language of Alsander.
" Then you understand me, sir ? Then you
don't mind ? "
" I do rather. Especially since you have said
I didn't matter. Particularly so since you called
me a pink-faced lout of an Englishman."
" Forgive me, sir," said Cesano, with in-
tensive courtesy. " I could not have imagined
that you understood my words. It is so rarely
that we Alsandrians have the pleasure of
hearing foreigners speak our tongue. And as
you have understood me, you have under-
stood that I was only in jest. And if there was
a little offence, you must pardon me. I am a
lover. We lovers are so hasty. It is natural
to be jealous of all men when one is a lover.
Of course, for me to have been jealous of you,
even for an instant, was purely ridiculous."
" 1 pardon you certainly, Signor Cesano,"
said Norman. " I pardon you with all my
heart, but . . . ."
EN PENSION IN ALSANDER 55
Norman felt uncomfortable. He heartily
wished that Peronella would go for her passion-
walk with Cesano, and leave him to his too
long neglected pipe. But, despite all his
Englishman's vague terror of the foreigner,
he had all a brave man's objections to hauling
down his colours, especially in the face of so
ridiculous an opponent as the Italian opera
personage who stood there gesticulating at
him, and whose politeness was thrice as
offensive as his rudeness. So he dwelt a second
on the word " but " and glanced at Peronella,
who came to his aid only too gladly, and with
consummate impudence took up the tale.
" Normano desires to say " murmured the
young lady in a very sweet voice " that you
have plenty of cause for jealousy."
" Cause for jealousy ! What do you mean by
cause for jealousy ? Of him ? "
" Ah ! he still finds the language a little
difficult to speak, you know. Even you who
are native do not seem to have mastered it
completely, Cesano. Yes, of course, of him ! "
" But what do you mean what do you
mean ? What do you dare to mean ? " cried
"This!" Here Peronella looked up at
Norman with a glance of admiration and put
her arm round his waist. Proud of her new
lover, she thought also that it would be more
prudent to display her colours at once. Cesano
56 THE KING OF ALSANDER
staggered to the wall, doubtless moved by real
emotion, but with such theatrical gestures
that he appeared a mere buffoon.
"What has happened? Can I believe my
eyes? Am I moon-mad? Have all the devils
possessed me? Are you Peronella? Am I
Cesano ? Is he your lover ? ?!
He buried his face in his hands. Peronella
would not answer the poor fellow.
" What has happened? Has that pink
foreigner bewitched your heart ? Are you tor-
menting me or are you tired of me ? " he cried.
" Not tired of you," said the girl, growing
a little white but not relaxing her grip of
Norman, " but very fond of him."
" Fond of that person ? Who or what is he ?
I have not the honour ..."
" He is an English lord who came here this
afternoon to live here."
" An English lord in this mud-house ? "
" It is good enough for him where I am."
Meanwhile Norman was feeling awkward
enough. The girl, it seemed, had taken pos-
session of him almost without asking him,
though doubtless it was his own fault, for
kissing lonely nymphs all in the morning of
the world. There she was publicly avowing
him, and making him feel very mean and
foolish before her honest, if extravagant,
lover, who now went on with a sort of por-
EN PENSION IN ALSANDER 57
" I am sorry. Forgive me, Peronella. I am
confused. I cannot understand what has hap-
pened. You cannot give me up after all these
months for some one you do not know at all.
It is absurd. It could not be. It is fantastic. It
" I did not know I had ever taken you,"
replied Peronella. " What have we ever done
but go out for walks like friends ? "
" But I was going to give up everything
for you. Do not blast my youth."
" It has been blasted before, Cesano."
" Not like this time. I cannot sleep. Come,
take away your arm, last of creatures. I can-
not bear it. I will go mad. I will beat you. As
for you, sir " (to Norman, in a deep bass), " I
will deal with you after with cold steel ! "
" Come, now," said Peronella, smoothly. " I
am very sorry indeed. One cannot help the
hand of Fate."
" Hand of Fate," said Cesano, in justifiable
wrath. " It has driven many women to hell,
that hand of Fate. Do you kiss a new man
every week ? Have you a price ? Was I not
honourable ? Did we not talk of marriage ? Did
I not pick you coral from the sea violets
from the meadows ? 5!
" Don't be poetic, Cesano, or I shall cry."
" Cry ! Can you shed tears ? I have shed
many for you at night beneath your window.
But you have no heart ! "
58 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" Why trouble then about so stony a young
The affected languor of her tone irritated
Norman almost as much as it was intended
to irritate Cesano, but he could not well
desert her now, and stood his ground. Cesano
sobbed, put one hand on his breast and the
other on a tableknife with which he made the
most threatening gestures at Norman. The
latter, who understood the hand-play more
than the rhetoric, could not help laughing at
the grotesque but unfortunate Alsandrian.
" Ah ! you laugh now ! " said Cesano, fero-
ciously. " Some day I will make you smile
at the back of your head."
And turning on his heel, to Norman's sur-
prise, he went softly and quietly out of the room.
" I am so sorry for Cesano," said Norman.
" I did not mean to be rude to him; he is a
good man. I am sorry you were so cruel to
him. He has not deserved it of you."
" Love is cruel ! And, 0, Normano, Love is
divine ! "
" Love is a very good subject of conversa-
tion," said Norman, ungallantly. He was tired,
and therefore had sagacious misgivings as to
what he had let himself in for. " Good night,"
he added, and turned on his heel.
" Is that all ? " said Peronella, opening out
But the wary Englishman had fled.
INTRODUCING A GOOD BEGGAR AND
A BAD KING
Beautiful and broken fountains, keep you still your
The Golden Journey to Samarkand.
DESPITE any irritation he might feel in finding
his pretty flirtation degenerate into a senti-
mental romance which might end ill, for a
week Norman led the golden life, and, after
all, the golden life can only be led in sunny
lands, by him who has a mistress on his arm
and music in his soul, and it never lasts more
than one week in the same place. The golden
life in Alsander means swimming, sunstruck
memories of old walls and young faces; it
means prospects down tortuous streets of
blue mountains towering to the sky or of blue
skies falling into bluer seas. It means the
discovery of an elegant fountain down this
way, of a Roman inscription hidden in moss
down that. It means the first view of the
Cathedral square. For the fa9ade of the
Cathedral of Alsander, first seen of a sudden
some early morning, when the square is still,
seems an impossible thing a mirage: it is
so vast, so lovely, and so old.
60 THE KING OF ALSANDER
But for Norman in Alsander, as for many
another, the chill Sunday of disappointment
followed the week-days of delight. Naturally
the first disappointment was Peronella. We
have already hinted at Norman's disappoint-
ment. It did not vanish, that disappointment :
it grew. Can beauty be boring ? Ah ! ye gods,
it can, if one has to talk to it, and it is stupid,
But was Peronella not romantic ? Oh, yes,
she was indeed, but romantic with a " k." She
was romantick like the fair misses of a hundred
years ago. But is not the romantick the same
as the romantic in principle ? Oh, yes, indeed,
the sentiment is the same; but to be romantic
requires intellect, and to be romantick re-
quires none. But was not Peronella edu-
cated? Indeed she was, most abominably
educated, quite enough to ruin all the fresh
roses of her nature. She had not, could not,
alas! read Ella Wheeler Wilcox, her poems,
but, oh ! how she would have loved them had
she known them! Marie Corelli she did read;
you may buy her works in Alsandrian. But
was she incapable of appreciating true litera-
ture? Oh, no, she adored Shakespeare and
Byron, which she read in translations. You see,
her mother had ideas and considered herself
a lady. Nevertheless Peronella began to bore
Norman: the spell was broken!
And once that spell broken, other enchant-
ments lost their hold. The mirage lifted from
A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 61
the city of Alsander. The illusion began to
disappear one day when it rained, and the
next day, when Norman walked out alone
after a sulky quarrel, it had utterly vanished.
The rain had ceased, but the sun had revived
the smells of Alsander (which were ubiquitous,
insinuating, sometimes crushing) without dry-
ing the streets. Norman slipped at every step
he took in the glutinous mud. The utter
disrepair of the cobbled streets made walking
bs,d enough at any time, heartrending after
rain. As for driving, it was a wonder there
was a carriage in the place. Across one of the
narrowest but most frequented roads gaped a
fabulously large hole which had perhaps been
opened for some vague drainage or burial
operations. The displaced cobbles formed a
little circular hill all round this preposterous
cavity, which looked in consequence more
like the crater of Etna than an honest hole in
the road, and carriages had positively to be
lifted over the hill into the valley and then
over the hill again. A couple of men could
have put it straight in half an hour but this
The question will arise, " But what of the
pavements ? " In Alsander, as a rule, there
are no pavements, the roads being flanked
on each side by little running sewers. Where
pavements do exist they are used for idle
shopmen to obstruct with their chairs or
62 THE KING OF ALSANDER
pushing shopmen to bar with their merchan-
dise. They also have a way of coming to an
end in the gutter after a few yards, just as
you are getting your stride in, and then tempt-
ing the foolish to wade across the road by
casually sprouting up on the opposite side.
Norman had all an Englishman's hatred of
discomfort and waste; he felt that Blaindon
could put Alsander to shame in the matter of
public works; he feared the smells would give
him typhoid, and he began to hate Alsander,
and he heard the call of Roon, the God of
Going, as it is written in the Gods of Pegana.
Besides all this he was frightened and
puzzled. He had fallen into a trap. He was
looked upon as a prospective son-in-law by
the Widow Prasko and that was ever so
largely his own fault. Englishmen were ac-
counted fabulously rich, and this one was
evidently handsome as well. Peronella was
already airing her proprietorship to the envy
and admiration of the other maids of Alsander.
Then Cesano was a nuisance with his little
tricks, for he was as sincere as he was ridicu-
lous the complement of Peronella with no
redeeming beauty. He was only at the scowling
stage at present, but would certainly advance,
in accordance with the sound early Renais-
sance tradition of the country, to powder in
the coffee, snake in the boot, or knife in the
back. But for all this, Norman was chivalrous
A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 63
and conscientious enough, and no coward,
either; and though he felt it would be best
for all concerned for him to leave his baggage
and run away by the next train, his sense of
honour was in conflict with anything that
smacked of dishonesty or funk. Besides, he
had not so much money left; he had to decide
whether he would try and make a living here
or elsewhere, and decide soon. It was part of
his travel scheme (which was not so fantastic,
after all) to work his passage, so to speak,
in some way or other from place to place. But
as yet he had not earned a farthing or so much
as looked for work. This also depressed him.
Thus it was that the great glass dome of his
happiness was shattered, and the last hour of
the golden life fell like a golden leaf from the
tree of existence. And as for that moment
when he heard all the bells of morning ringing
in his ears and smiled at a girl with her pails of
water, that was not a week but five thousand
years ago, when all the skies were blue.
Darkly brooding and much disillusioned,
therefore, our. hero came to the Royal Castle
of Alsander. He had not seen it close at hand
before. It stands far from the centre of the
town, on the steepest part of the rock, an
unconquerable edifice of faceted stone, its
Palladian gateway flanked by two stupendous
fat uncompromising towers, with hundreds of
yards of unbroken, unwindowed wall slanting
64 THE KING OF ALSANDER
outwards to the base, continuing beyond the
towers to right and left. Two sleepy sentries,
in a fine old uniform, holding in their hands
some weapon, vaguely mediaeval, guarded the
The strength, one might almost say the
ugliness, of the castle pleased Norman's mood.
He was just beginning to enjoy the scene,
leaning by a fine old statue which stood in the
midst of the square on a low pedestal and
represented, standing twice life-size, hel-
meted and hand to sword, the hero King of
Alsander, Kradenda the First, the builder of
the castle. He was gazing round intently,
when an old crouching beggar interrupted
him and asked him in a sort of hoarse whisper
if he wanted to see the castle. Norman, with a
disgusted and pitying glance at the filthy
rags of the mendicant, offered him silver
to be left in peace.
"I do not want silver," said the old man.
" Look you here " and he tossed into the air
a heavy purse that hung by his girdle " I want
to show you the castle."
"Is it open to all visitors?' 5 inquired
" No, but if I take you we shall pass,"
replied the vagrant, with assurance. Norman
was surprised into accepting; more surprised
still when the heavy-eyed sentries gave a sort
of furtive salute to his disreputable guide;
A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 65
and most surprised on viewing the interior of
the castle. " At all events there was one more
thing to see in Alsander before I left," said he
For inside the frowning battlemented walls,
instead of harsh keeps and dungeons, were the
beautiful ruins of a beautiful garden. There
was a riot of greenery, to which roses, orange
blossom, jasmine and hybiscus gave the pro-
minent colours and scents. The grass was
sprinkled with cyclamen, asphodel, red ane-
mones and with wild remnants of old culti-
vation. There were toy stone Greek temples,
little cottages like English cottages, painted
lath and plaster summer-houses like Turkish
summer-houses, showing the bare bones of
their construction at every windy corner.
4 Who made all this ? " inquired Norman.
The old beggar turned away from the
garden and pointed to the vast encircling
quadrilateral of the wall, as grand from within
as from without.
:c This wall," he said, standing up straight
and waving his hand around with curious
enthusiasm, and speaking in a vibrating but
refined voice which ill befitted his rags and
mouldering beard, " is the work of Kradenda
the Great, founder of the power and glory of
Alsander, against whose statue you were
leaning in the square. Now I know many
stories of the great Kradenda, and will tell you
66 THE KING OF ALSANDER
one, my lord. In those days the Saracen galleys
had driven the people of this land up into the
hills, and the plain was all a waste. Now
Kradenda was a shepherd lad, and one day
he went out at the head of his fellows and
burnt the fleet of the infidels. ..."
" Oh, I have heard the story," said Norman.
" Milord is impatient," said the beggar.
" But I am glad that after so short a stay in
Alsander he should know at least one story
of Kradenda the Great. There are, of course,
many other stories. My lord, have you heard
how King Kradenda recultivated the plain ? ' !
No, I have not heard that story. Tell
'Well, I will tell you. It was like this.
Malaria had gripped those good rich lands,
and not a soul would reclaim them for fear
of disease. The Great King ordered his people
to recultivate the plain. But so many died of
fever that they murmured against the order.
Thereupon he called to them and told them
that they were soldiers and would they run
from an enemy ? c Never,' they said, ' if he
led them.' 'Do you not see, then,' said the
King, c that fever is our enemy now that I
have driven off the infidel: you must fight it
and die for your country if needs be.' c We will
obey,' said the old chief who had led the depu-
tation, ' but only if you lead us.' Whereupon
the Bang laughed and bade them follow him,
A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 67
and there and then he pitched his tent in the
filthiest part of the marsh and began to dig a
channel for the waters with his own hands.
In that way the marsh was soon drained and
dry, and such a man was the first Kradenda."
" That is a good story," said Norman, " and
well and concisely told. But tell me now
about the garden and the summer-houses and
" What of them ? " said the guide. " The
summer-houses are crumbling, the garden is a
wilderness and the fountains play no more."
" Weird talk from a beggar," thought Nor-
man. " But who built them ? " he inquired
aloud. " They are quite beautiful."
" They were built by King Basilandron:
he was quite beautiful, too."
" I have never heard of him, though my
landlady, who is a wise woman, has told me
much of the history of your charming country."
" Ah, we do not talk much of him in Alsan-
der. Here is his name, cut in the wood."
He showed Norman an inscription on the
side of a little summer-house with wooden
tracery and a faded blue paint, which ran:
" But why is it in Greek letters ? " in-
" He would have everything in Greek.
He it was who called the river lanthe. It was
known as Vorka before."
68 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" You know the history of Alsander well,"
said Norman, more and more astonished at
the language and erudition of his guide.
" I love Alsander," said the old man. " I
know all the stones of this castle and all the
stories of Alsander 's past."
" Then tell me the story of King Basil-
andron," said Norman, " for I have never
heard it. And after that I shall ask you to tell
me the story of your life : for rags do not make
you a beggar."
" Neither does my erudition prove me to
be a prince in disguise," said the old fellow
with a smile. " But I would rather even tell
you the story of my life, tragic as it is, than
tell you the story of King Basilandron, which
is the tragedy of a nation, and one that those
who love Alsander do not care to tell.
" Tell me first the story of Basilandron and
then the story of your life."
4 c It is little we poor citizens of Alsander can
refuse to the inquiring tourist," said the old
man with acerbity. " And may the devil
torment you for a member of a great nation
that can look after itself. We, you know, are
supposed to be incapable of self-government,
especially since we went bankrupt a year or
two ago, and actually dared to ruin some
French bondholders. Since that day the Great
Powers have been terrifying us with an inter-
national commission. If ever there is a free
A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 69
fight in a cafe here, or a dog-fight in the square,
some foreigner writes to a European newspaper
about the anarchy in Alsander. American
missionaries, who believe in Noah's Ark and
the historical existence of Methusalem, revile
the degraded superstitions of our peasants who
still hold to their immemorial festivals in
honour of the water that bursts from the rock
or the grape that grows dark on the vine.
And now we are threatened with inspectors,
all of varying nationalities, to avoid all
appearance of intrigue or possibility of
jealousy. You see our strategic importance is
the only importance left to us otherwise we
should long ago have disappeared. So we are
to have a Spanish Financial Inspector and a
Swiss Sanitary Board. Our gendarmerie will
be organized by a virtuous Dane. Our agricul-
ture will be modernized by an energetic
Dutchman. Our public conveniences will
doubtless be improved by one of your own
" My compatriot," said Norman, " will not
be unoccupied. But I insist upon your telling
me the tale of King Basilandron."
" I will tell you, milord, since you are so
importunate, but forgive me if I have been
impolite. These things touch me so near.
" Well, then, King Basilandron ruled in
days when certain ideas from Italy, having
reached Alsander, had turned the heads even
70 THE KING OF ALSANDER
of sober people and made great havoc of the
Court. It was in those days that all this wood
and plaster work which you so much admire
was erected; it was in this garden that night
after night King Basilandron held revel, to the
great pleasure of those engaged therein. The
Court was all crammed with fiddlers, painters,
poets, dancers, barbers and buffoons. But they
were quack fiddlers, feeble painters, vile poets
and clumsy dancers, who would not have dared
to move a leg in Italy. But the barbers and
buffoons were such as the world has never
seen, so dexterous and stylish. Need I tell you
how the country was taxed to maintain this
alien population, or how the people groaned
and murmured, or how the aesthetic monarch
kept them quiet and amused by diverting
pageants ? All sorts of pageants there were
of beggars, thieves, madmen, lovers, heretics
(real heretics, subsequently burnt), queens of
antiquity, widows, tigers and Turks. But a
pageant was the end of the whole business, as
I will tell you now.
"One day the King resolved to re-establish
the worship called of Orpheus, to the great joy
of his friends. He clothed himself as Bacchus,
though per Bacco he looked more like
Silenus (if the painters of his day did not make
him more ugly than he was, which in those
days was not the custom of Court painters).
His escort was a troop of noble ladies clothed
A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 71
in forest branches and none too leafy: and
one summer evening under the full moon off they
went singing to the mountains. After they
had danced their fill and sinned God knows
what sins, the moon set and back they swooped
on the city in a sort of make-believe battle
line; and there at the gates was the army of
Alsander mumming in Greek tunics waiting
to receive their amorous attack. But at that
very hour a different host was approaching
Alsander forgotten barbarians from Ulm-
reich and the two hosts met. And that is all
and that has been all for the glory and
power of Alsander," concluded the old man,
" But Alsander is independent still."
" An independence handed her as a gift by
Ulmreich and Gantha, her two great neigh-
bours, is not much worth having. The day one
of them is strong enough to seize us from the
other, we shall go. Or if that international
commission really sits, it is as good as death
to our little nation. We shall never more be
able to raise our heads and chiefly through
the fault of King Basilandron."
" But much might be done now," objected
Norman, with a certain breeziness. " Why
should Alsander have to wait for an inter-
national commission, before getting her streets
paved ? Look at my boots."
" I would rather look at your eyes than at
72 THE KING OF ALSANDER
your feet, young Englishman. As for Alsan-
der, she cannot be clean while she is corrupt.
That would be hypocrisy, and we have never
sunk so low as that. But in Bermondsey the
streets are excellently paved. And, by God!
Alsander, in all its poverty and decay, is not
so vile a place as Bermondsey, nor are its
people so brutal or so blind as yours."
" We have no sun," said Norman. " But
come, you have been in England, you are a
wonderful old man. Tell me your story now
that you have told the story of Basilandron."
" I cannot tell my story," said the old man,
shaking as if with sorrow. " My tragedy is so
little when I think of the tragedy of my
people that I can only say Alas for Al-
sander ! "
" You, sir, are a great patriot," said Nor-
man, touched into respect of all this passion
in all those rags.
" I, sir, am a very old man," replied the
beggar, and Norman could not tell why the
reply was so appropriate.
" I understand now," said Norman, " why
you hate these pretty pavilions and love
those old walls. And I suppose the present
state of Alsander must distress you. But
surely some young and vigorous ruler could
still do wonders for Alsander? I have been
told, to my great surprise, that the King,
though young, is insane. I have heard also
A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 73
that he usually lives in this castle, but that
the Jewish doctor who attends him, and who
is said to be the cleverest man in Alsander
(and some say the wickedest), has sent him
to England or Ulmreich or somewhere as a last
hope. If only a new and vigorous King could
rule this land awhile, there is still a chance of
greatness ; but it is astonishing that the people
seem neither to know nor care exactly who or
where their King is, or what his true state of
health may be. Perhaps you are better in-
formed? I heard myself that the King had
been sent to some European asylum to be
cured, but no one seems to know to which
i; As to that point, I can only assure you,
my lord, that there is no hope for the King's
sanity. It is pure degeneration of race."
" Then I inquired why the heir to the throne
was not installed in his place. No one seemed
to like to talk of that subject. But it appears
she is a girl living somewhere in Ulmreich,
very young, and as mad as the King."
" I do not think the young lady in question,
whom I once had the honour of meeting, is
exactly mad," said the beggar. " A little
wild, one might say, and her guardians are
wise enough to let her do as she pleases. I
expect our illustrious Regent has been spread-
ing that fable."
" You mean Duke Vorza ? I understand
74 THE KING OF ALSANDER
he is virtually despot of Alsander now. I have
heard a great deal of grumbling against him,
but nothing very definite, though I have
heard some people say that the King is not
really so mad as his physician and the Regent
" Duke Vorza," said the beggar, " is a man
of great talent and ambition. He does not
like the people of Alsander to talk very much
about anything. To have seen him kiss the
peasant children in the streets on the day he
raised the tax on matches was what you might
call a lesson in political economy. It is mar-
vellous, too, how he manages the city council
a rather enlightened body of merchants and
professional men and opposed to his reac-
tionary policy. He distributes invitations to
dinner at exactly the right moment, and if a
dinner fails he decorates. Sforelli (who is only
considered a scoundrel because of his dark
features and undoubted ability) is almost the
only one of them man enough to withstand a
title or a decoration. The consequence is he
dare not venture out of his house after dark
for fear of meeting one of Vorza's ruffians in
the street. Oh, there are many dark stories to
tell of Vorza, but such is the stupidity of
popular rumour it has seized on the most
improbable, Vorza and Sforelli, though out-
wardly amiable to each other, are in secret
bitter enemies, and as for the madness of the
A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 75
Bang, I assure you he is as mad as anyone
could pretend him to be."
" But no one seems to have seen him for
years," objected Norman.
" I have, but few others," said the mendi
" There's something terrible about a King
whom his people seem never to have seen,"
" Listen to me," said the old man in a low
and dramatic whisper. " I may not be quite
what I seem, as you surmise, and I may have
powers even you do not suspect. Would you
like to see the King of Alsander and discover
for yourself how terrible he is ? "
" Do you mean to say he is here ? " ex-
claimed Norman. " Is it not true that he is in
Europe and do the people really not know
where he is ? "
" Did you not hear that he was expected
back ? " %
" There was a queer rumour, now I come to
think of it," said Norman, thinking of his
talks with Pedro the cobbler and others, " that
he was coming back cured."
" Well, he has returned, not cured, and that
is all," said the old man.
Norman started a little.
" I seem to recognize your voice," he said.
" Surely I have met you before ? ' !
" Don't you remember, my lord, the old
76 THE KING OF ALSANDER
tramp you met in Gantha, who told you all
about the beauties of Alsander ? "
c Why, that eloquent old fellow, was it
you ? It was you, then, persuaded me to come
to this country. I have much to thank you for:
it is a wonderful country indeed. But it was
dark on the road that night and I could hardly
see you. So you are he. But you were not talk-
ing Alsandrian but English."
" I have wandered, and you have learnt
" Yes. I found the little book you left in my
pocket. But tell me, who are you ? Of course,
I cannot believe you to be a beggar. Enough
of these mysterious tricks. You are a man of
eloquence and learning. You must be a person
of diplomatic importance, if you can really
show me the mad King of Alsander."
' You shall really see him as I promised,"
said the old man, and making a trumpet of his
hands he called out " Yohann! Yohann! " in
a remarkably sonorous voice. Immediately
there appeared from the lodge beneath the
gate a sentry at whose girdle dangled two large
keys. He came up to them and saluted, but
made no remark, and in silence they all three
went across the gardens to the vast loopholed
wall opposite the gate. The sentry opened an
insignificant little door half hidden in the
wallflowers that dangled from the crevices
between the mighty stones.
A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 77
" The walls are thicker than you supposed,
are they not, my lord ? " said the tattered
Norman gasped with astonishment. A huge
corridor pierced the wall from side to side and
top to bottom, a corridor at least a hundred
feet long and eighty feet high, yet only of a
breadth for three men to walk side by side
and lit only by a tiny window at the extreme
end. Norman having walked over to it saw
that the window commanded a sweeping view
of the plain of Alsander, the river lanthe,
the sea, the mountains, and also noted that
no one could look in through that window
whoever might look out, for the wall on
that side is built on the top of a sheer precipice
of rock. Meanwhile the second key was being
applied to another small door half-way down
the corridor on the left. It opened groaning;
the centre of the corridor was flooded with a
shaft of light.
" Enter, my lord," said the mysterious
guide. " This is the throne-room."
It was a most presentable type of dis-
jointed majesty, this throne-room, the apothe-
osis of the ruined summer-house outside, a
wreck of what had once been a gorgeous but
not entirely tasteless mass of plaster gilding
and paint in the style of the late Renaissance.
Sham large windows had been let in to hide the
little grills in the wall; in the intervening space
78 THE KING OF ALSANDER
the two hooks were still visible where once
lamps had swung to flood the hall from with-
out with artificial daylight. The ceiling, a false
one, for the room went up of old to the height
of the wall, like the corridor outside it, was
painted with a device in cunning perspective,
representing the apotheosis (among very pink
angels) of King Basilandron, the same who
christened the river lanthe and was respon-
sible for the disaster of the Bacchic revels.
The picture, and indeed the entire room, dated
from his lifetime. The wall decorations, how-
ever (according to information which Norman
subsequently gathered), were added by his
son very tasteful designs of apes and China-
men singeries and chinoiseries. Basilan-
dron II evidently disagreed with his father's
idealistic tendencies, and held a firm belief
that art should not aim at expressing any
meaning, not even a lascivious one, but should
rather consist of graceful and intricate de-
signs. In this way he anticipated many of the
most brilliant modern theorists. Although
these panels had suffered considerably owing
to the inferior quality of the paint employed,
their condition was good compared with the
dado, the composition columns, the settees
and other accessories of the room. Dust, black,
deep and ancient, had settled among those
gilded lilies and plaster cupids ; part of the
work had fallen away, exposing the supporting
A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 79
wires, and part was grievously cracked. It
may be because plaster cracks more irregu-
larly than marble, but whatever the reason
a noseless plaster Muse, however elegant
originally, cannot reassert her loveliness like
an antique torso or the armless Aphrodite.
Moreover, the spider, ubiquitous and re-
morseless, had woven his octagonal mesh in
every crevice of the wall, and, more shame-
lessly still, among the pendants of the great
glass chandelier, wherein were still sticking
grisly and darkened stumps of candle, the
same that had been lit at the requiem of the
last King of Alsander twenty years ago.
Since then a plain lamp (so portable and so
much easier to light) had been deemed suffi-
cient for the service of the Court.
Perhaps the most pitiable objects in the
room were the two or three sofas that still
remained, their gilt tarnished, their tapestries
mouldy and eaten by the moth. But the hall
contained another seat of a far different aspect,
impervious to such decay. Beneath the great
rose window it stood, at the upper end of the
room, strangely out of place, a cold and massive
work, the ancient throne of the Kradendas.
It was fronted by wide steps, flanked by gro-
tesque yet grand lions, and wrought of granite
rock. And if this rude and barbaric throne
was anomalous in so artistic a room, still more
vivid was the contrast between the majesty
80 THE KING OF ALSANDER
of its structure and the majesty of him who sat
For there sat the imbecile Andrea, with
watery grey eyes, with hair and hands un-
kempt, arrayed in the stifling drapery of his
state robes. He was a young man, but he
seemed to have been alive five hundred years.
His features parodied the portraits of his
ancestors. With the heavy iron crown of
Alsander on his head, and a great silver
sceptre in his hands, he sat immobile; only
his mumbling lips seemed to address a phan-
tom and imaginary Court.
OF THE KNIGHTING OF NORMAN
Do diddle di do,
Poor Jim Jay
Got stuck fast
THE madman on the throne seemed to know
Norman's guide, for he showed no surprise,
but asked immediately:
" Whom hast thou with thee, last courtier
of the Court of the Kradendas ? "
"A young squire, my liege the King,
who will devote his life to rescue the house of
the Kradenda from infamy and harm," said
4 c He is young, but our need is great. Above
all, we need brave men. We need such men as
have made Alsander what it is. Tell me," he
continued, turning to Norman, " are you brave
or fearful? v
" You should humour him," whispered the
old man to Norman, who, astonished at the
whole scene, and especially at this antiquated
and abrupt form of address, did not know what
82 THE KING OF ALSANDER
to reply. " He is in the middle ages. For him
this hall is still hung with cloth of gold, but
he knows that his courtiers have left him, and
fears treachery and, above all, magic. He is
a brave man, my liege the King," added the
old man aloud.
" Let him speak for himself, then, and do
not whisper so much to him in my presence.
Sir stranger, are you afraid of dragons ? ''
" Of none," said Norman, vaguely wonder-
ing if he were telling the truth.
" well, very well," said the King. " I
have need of the strong and resolute. Too long
has my kingdom lain in ashes and ruin; too
long have I been pent up in this dismal room,
a powerless captive, I, the son of the Kra-
dendas ! I tell you there has been foul treachery
and foul black magic. But it shall end. I will no
longer be the sport of a thing who flaps his
wings in my face. But his hour has come. No
more scales and fins for me. Listen closely. I will
whisper to you the vital secret. I had it in a
dream. You have only to hit him in the fifth
rib. But, whatever you do, do not let him
change his shape. You can catch him this
evening. Wait behind the curtain. He
comes here always at seven o'clock to play
chess with me, squares and squares and
" I will be there in waiting."
" Will you take an oath to be bold in my
KNIGHTING OF NORMAN PRICE 83
cause, to fight for me, and to serve me faith-
fully, and my Queen ? "
" I will have every care of your Majesty
and of your Majesty's kingdom," said Norman,
keeping up the spirit of the thing at a further
hint from his companion, despite his disgust.
" I think you are not of this country," ob-
served the King. " Come you from North or
South, or from the rising or from the setting ? "
" From the North, your Majesty," replied
" Fair scion of the North, I will swear you
have no lies upon your lips. What is your
name ? ' !
" Norman, if it please your Majesty."
" And are you Knight ? "
" I am but squire, your Majesty."
" Then, my deliverer, since for years no one
has cared for my ruined Majesty, save this, my
last, my oldest, my only courtier, for my
leech I count not; since you alone have prof-
fered your service to a deserted and broken
King, I am filled with good intentions
towards you and propose to bestow upon you
now at this moment the ancient and honour-
able distinction of knighthood, that you may
bear me homage. Once more, will you swear
to serve me faithfully ? "
" Oh, certainly," said Norman, the more
uncomfortable in that there was something
rather noble about the King's madness.
84 THE KING OF ALSANDER
' Then kneel," said the King, rising, as he
said the words, in all his battered splendour,
with the deep seriousness of a young child at
play. Solemnly and almost gracefully, with
the wooden sword that a wise supervision
allowed him, he dubbed Norman Knight,
according to the famous custom of chivalry,
which even in England is not quite dead.
" Rise, Sir Norman," he cried exultantly.
" I have long waited for you, my deliverer
and friend, for you and for this hour. I have
no doubt of your valour: I have every confi-
dence in your success. And as soon as the
Dragon is killed the spell will be broken: as
soon as the spell is broken my courtiers will
return: as soon as my courtiers return their
wives will come with them, and troops of
beautiful women will kiss my hand. Every
morning I will hunt to the sound of the horn
up the valley, down the valley, after the wild
boar. Every evening we will eat his succu-
lent flesh in this my ancestral hall. We will
fill this room with pageantry yet, and hold
such a feast as this cracked ceiling has not
supervised for many a long year. And we will
put cushions on this uncomfortable throne,
and gild it over so as to have it more in keep-
ing with our state and dignity. On the day
you kill the Dragon, Knight of the North, all
the cathedral bells shall ring and the foun-
tains shall run with wine, and the populace
KNIGHTING OF NORMAN PRICE 85
will shout and brandish flowers all day and
wave lanterns all the night. But, ah ..."
The voice dropped from ecstasy to fear and
went on in a muddled murmur:
" But kill that Dragon soon, Knight of the
North. Go out to him soon, go out this evening,
before dusk. I would not pass another night
like yesternight, with his eyes staring in
through my head. He is a basilisk: his glance
is death: go quickly. go quickly leave my
presence slay that dreadful beast ! v
" We will go and slay him at once," replied
the old man. " Come, young Englishman," he
added in an aside, " I am willing enough to
take the hint. I have no taste for this
" Above all," the King cried after them,
" bring me his head." As they turned and
looked back from the door they saw that the
King had again collapsed into his throne, and
was again working his lips in silence.
Not till they were out in the garden again
did Norman speak.
" What does it all mean ? Who are you, and
what have you shown me ? " asked the lad.
This morning the world was as ordinary
as a sixpenny magazine: and now my head
is turning, and I am walking not like a man
in a dream, but, what is worse, like a man in a
painted picture. Those flowers are fatal and
those walls fantastic. Quick, tell me, what
86 THE KING OF ALSANDER
does it all mean? The sunshine is grimac-
' You have seen," said the stranger, " the
Secret of the Picturesque. For now we must talk
up on a higher plane."
" Damn the higher plane: tell me who you
are. But there, do you think I didn't know it
all the time ? You can be none other but that. . . "
" Not a word," said his companion, cutting
him dead short. " You did not know it till
now, when I intended to let you know. By
' it ' I mean either the Secret of the Picturesque
or what you meant by c it.' Besides, it's not
true that I am this or am that; that depends
on what I am."
" Puzzle me no longer: talk plain sense,"
" Surely my words are plain enough. What
is it you want to know ? ''
" Your name and history."
" I have no name, but my friends are
allowed to call me the Old Man. My history
is a dead secret. But if you are in earnest and
willing to talk on the higher plane, I will
explain to you the meaning of my remark
about the Secret of the Picturesque."
" I am willing," said Norman in desperate
bewilderment, and eager to hear any explana-
tion about anything.
His guide seemed as mad as the King and
needed humouring no less.
KNIGHTING OF NORMAN PRICE 87
" Come to this bench then," said the Old
Poet, " and I will illustrate my meaning with
a fable of my own composition."
And taking a manuscript from his pocket,
without waiting for a word of acquiescence
from Norman, who was getting very hungry,
he read as follows :
" There was a man (so majestically made
that I knew him at once to be the type of
Man) walking along a narrow pathway that
led from the valley up towards the hills, fol-
lowing a stream. As he strode along two
enchanting girls came flying from the South,
poised on dragonfly wings; one of them had a
lyre in her hand, which she played merrily,
and the other an antique scroll painted over
with a multitude of amusing and delicate
figures. The man was obviously pleased at
the arrival of these spirits; he rejoiced in their
companionship (as who would not?), and
they all three sang and laughed together on
the way. So intent was he on their diverting
frolics that while crossing a narrow bridge of
planks he nearly fell over into the river, and
as time went on, and the pathway began to
ascend the hillside more abruptly, I won-
dered if he was not beginning to find their
company a little tedious. For while one of
them buffeted him over the eyes with her
playful wings, the other flung her robe, for
88 THE KING OF ALSANDER
amusement, round his naked body, and em-
barrassed his movements. However, he got
rid of their teasing very soon, and at a point
where the path entered a dense forest and
they had no room to spread their wings I
saw him laugh at their discomfiture. The track
grew no better upon leaving the forest, for it
was cut in the side of a precipice. The two
maidens flew with weary and trembling wings
over the horrible gulf, or else tore their dresses
and bruised their feet trying to follow over
the rocks. The man was hindered by them
still, for he had to help them, and to judge
by his slow progress and perpetual stumbling
he was no skilled mountaineer. I wondered
what miracle had preserved him as I watched
his perilous ascent; and finally I saw that his
right hand was grasping another hand, which
had no visible body.
:c Very naturally, when they arrived at a
little dell very high up in the mountain,
where there was a withered tree and a little
moss, the girls implored the man to take a
little refreshment. But the man's attention
was fixed on the last portion of the ascent,
a steep snow slope, at the top of which a black
rock rose sheer out of the snow; let into the
rock was a glittering brass door. So he refused
to dawdle, and, gripping the hand, he began
climbing at once. The women summoned all
their courage and followed on foot: they were
KNIGHTING OF NORMAN PRICE 89
too tired to fly any more; and now one, and
now the other, was glad of their companion's
free left arm. At last they came to the door;
the mysterious hand touched a spring; the
door flew open to divine music and some one
bade the traveller enter.
" But he turned away his eyes resolutely
from the superb enchantments of the cave,
and swore he would go back unless he could
take with him the girls of the dragonfly wings,
for the sake and memory of their old and
sweet companionship. The poor fairies were
bedraggled and muddy, their pretty wings
hung limply down their backs; they could
hardly smile when the man kissed them.
Ci ' They cannot be admitted without
initiation,' said the person to whom the hand
belonged, ' and they will not endure.'
" * We will endure any pain, if we may
only come in with the Man,' they cried both
together, and bent forward trying to pass in
and to penetrate the depths of the cavern with
" The hand persuaded the traveller to go
inside the cave, and promised that his friends
should follow. He obeyed, but taking no notice
of its beauties stood listening behind the door.
He heard the whistling of a scourge and gasps
of pain. Then quiet; the door opened, and
there appeared his two companions, yet
changed, and with a deep fire in their eyes:
90 THE KING OF ALSANDER
and they had eagle pinions in the place o
' That is very charming indeed," sai<
Norman. " But does it quite explain you
remark ? "
" If you were to read Plato with atten
tion," said the old man, " you would acquir
the habit of seizing the point of a parable."
" I have read the New Testament."
" But this is philosophy."
" And I am sure," said Norman, " that ha<
Plato written that story you have told me
it would have acquired a great reputation
But as for the connexion of the parable an<
your remark, I conceive that in both yoi
show a dislike of the picturesque, or pretty
considering it the foe of beauty."
" The picturesque, my son, is the beautiful
but only a section thereof. In this fable I hav
represented it as miniature beauty. The othe
fable of the picturesque I have no need t<
write; it is written over the world from th
columns of Baalbek to the arches of Tintern
and blazed on every stone of Alsander."
" You mean the picturesque which is decay
ing beauty ? v
" I do," said the old man.
" I understand you, venerable Sir, bu
why are you so passionate about it all ? v
" Don't you see, boy, I love Alsander witl
a love a little different from the love of th<
KNIGHTING OF NORMAN PRICE 91
tourist who comes to photograph the ruins.
Oh ! I have worked for her; but she is dying,
dying, dying like a rose on a sapless tree."
" I am afraid you are right," said Norman,
sadly. " After what you have shown me I
have no hope for unfortunate Alsander."
" Impudent tourist ! Do not dare blaspheme
against the Queen of cities ! " growled the old
man. There is more hope radiating from a
wayside shrine of Alsander than from all the
ten-million heretic barns of your greedy North.
But Norman was used by now to these
intermittent bursts of fury. " At all events,"
he rejoined, " Alsander is no place for an
Englishman. I have had enough of it. I have
to-day seen its last and most tragic secret.
To-morrow I will go."
" You are not going so soon? " There was
real dismay in the old man's voice.
" By the first train to-morrow."
"Oh no, no, no ! You must stay. I did not
mean to speak so soon as this, but I must tell
you now. I have great plans for you a fine
work a whole future. Come: sit on this bench
a moment, let me talk to you in earnest. O
you cannot possibly be allowed to go at once.
Do you not realize the deep seriousness that
lies beneath all my mannerisms ? Do you
think that it was to satisfy a traveller's
curiosity that I showed you that poor, miser-
able madman seated on his throne ? "
92 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" I do not know why you showed me the
King or why you ever disturbed my life or
why you ever do anything you do. But as for
work, I prefer to find it for myself. And
without wishing to offend you, I want to leave
this place. I do not want to be involved in
your mysterious schemes." Norman spoke
stiffly. The old man alarmed him.
" I will thicken the mysteries round your
head like clouds before I permit you to leave
Alsander, Norman Price."
" Then it is you," said Norman, startled
at the sound of his name. You are the old
fellow who bought the tin of Menodoron off
me months ago at Blaindon. You are the tramp
who sent me to Alsander. And now you have
got me to Alsander you want to drive me to
perdition. But I am not going to have my life
upset by you any more."
And Norman rose from the bench and
confronted the old man with folded arms.
" Indeed, are you not ? " was the reply.
" Come, I promise you a rare adventure."
' What adventure ? "
" I'm not going to spoil the first chapter
of the story by looking up the last page.
Trust and obey me as you trusted and obeyed
me before the greybeard with the blue eyes.
Did my advice turn out so badly? Do you
presume to tell me that you are sorry I drove
you to Alsander ? "
KNIGHTING OF NORMAN PRICE 93
' Oh, as for that, IVe had a glorious
journey. But the time has come for me to
go. I have no money left. And I have personal
" I know, I know." The old man tapped
with his stick. " Some pretty wench, is that
the matter ? Has it come to this so soon ? "
; You have guessed rightly."
" Foolish boy. Is such a game worth your
pursuing you with a mind ! Not to mention
that it's poor sport hunting doves. There's
but one way for such as you with a maid.
Try the intellect first then ask the heart.
Love's ways are folded in the mind. Second-
rate poets may walk in their gardens pre-
lassing up and down, singing you songs of
the scholar that loved a farmer's girl. But
you and I are wise enough to know love from
lust, Norman Price. Lust has her whims, even
her selections that I grant you: but shall
she delude us into taking her for Love ? ' !
" Lust is a great Goddess as well as
" It may be; but she is a great foe of reason-
able men. And Love comprises all her power
and many other powers besides. But, believe
me, your difficulty is not a disaster, and tact
can meet it, and I swear you will learn what
love means before you leave Alsander."
" Your promises are pretty bold, especially
that last one, my Poet. However, if you pro-
94 THE KING OF ALSANDER
mise me good sport, of course I will stay a
little longer in Alsander."
" I have one bag full of promises and one
full of fulfilments," smiled the old man, " and
they both weigh pretty well the same. But
first you have a promise to make to me."
" Which is?"
" That you will maintain the most abso-
lute, the most impenetrable secrecy concern-
ing what you have seen this afternoon,
including the very existence of such persons
as myself and the King of Alsander."
" A reasonable and not unexpected request.
Of course I give you my word of honour to
keep silent. But reveal your next mystery, Sig-
nore ! "
" What is a revealed mystery, except for
the Church ? All I care to let you know is that
if you prove your mettle you shall be allowed
to help in the regeneration of Alsander."
" A political scheme is that it ? But how
am I to prove my mettle ? r
" Wait and you will see."
" Tell me at least," rejoined Norman, " what
is to be my immediate conduct. How am I to
make the first step of this sublime journey ? v
" Return to your lodging, rise, eat, walk,
sleep, and flirt a little less than usual, and
" Is that all ? "
" Not quite all. I have another very fanciful
KNIGHTING OF NORMAN PRICE 95
request to make. Are you what the ancients
call a good hypocrite, that is to say, an
accomplished actor ? For there is a delicate
piece of acting which I would like you to
perform. I want you by gradual degrees to
raise a little mystery about yourself. I want
you to insinuate with a hint here and a
whisper there that you are a personage, a man
with a past, a nobleman in disguise, at all
events not quite what you seem. Let the
honest folk you dwell with begin to imagine
that there is some secret about your arrival in
" My dear sir, what a very odd idea ! "
" You will be full of odd ideas in a few
weeks' time. I only hope that you will suc-
ceed in this the first of your tasks, and that
you have not already been too explicit con-
cerning your origin and identity. Play the lost
millionaire or the ruined marquis. Become
quickly a marked man a man at whose ap-
proach the townsfolk whisper.
" This is a harlequin's game," said Nor-
" Well, the world's a ball, and out of shape
at that: there's no need to be ashamed of
mummery. If you don't like it leave it: but I
should be extremely sorry, and you would
miss the occasion of your life. Come, now ! "
They passed through the castle gate. The
sentries appeared to be still asleep, leaning
96 THE KING OF ALSANDER
against the archway, their lances propped on
their drowsy bodies. The castle square was
deserted as ever. Halfway across the old man
stopped seized Norman by the lapel of his
coat and observed, " By the way, you ought
to give that girl a handsome present ! "
' What queer jumps you do make in the
conversation, to be sure ! " exclaimed Norman.
c When your great and secret scheme has
enriched me, no doubt I shall make her a very
magnificent present. But I can't see the im-
mediate necessity, and at present I am pretty
short of cash."
" Never mind the cash. Go to a little shop
in a back lane opposite the cathedral and ask
to see fine presents for fine ladies. He buys
stolen goods, sells cheap, gives unlimited
credit to anyone who says " The Poet sent me."
' Why, I have already noticed that little
shop," cried Norman. " It contains all sorts
of trash, and the other day I found a few old
books exposed in the window, and an old
Amsterdam Petronius among them."
" Yes. Those pretty old vellum bound clas-
sics, I should tell you, must be bought with
caution and bought cheap. They have no
intrinsic value if you want to sell them again.
But he has all sorts of treasures ; I can recom-
mend him to you strongly. By the way, it may
seem odd of me to ask, but will you excuse me
a moment ? "
KNIGHTING OF NORMAN PRICE 97
" Certainly," said Norman, and the old man
walked swiftly away from him and hurried
up a back street. Norman kept wondering
why his guide was so insistent on the question
of the present. He then wondered why he had
gone, and then, as minutes went on, he won-
dered why he had not returned. He looked up
the back street. There was no trace of his
strange companion, who evidently did not
intend to reappear, and had taken this odd
way of vanishing.
" Well," said Norman to himself as he
paced home pondering on the fantastic events
of the afternoon, " in this fair city of Alsander
at least I can pass as sane ! "
CONCERNING ISIS AND APHRODITE:
WITH A DIGRESSION ON THE
SHOCKING TREATMENT THE LAT-
TER'S FOLLOWERS RECEIVE FROM
THE HANDS OF ENGLISH NOVEL-
I had read books you had not read,
Yet I was put to shame
To hear the simple words you said,
And see your eyes aflame.
AND there was Peronella !
Seated at the window charmingly dressed
in white and rose, with the sun on her face
and neck and naked arms, with light playing
with those said marvellous arms of hers and
making all the little downy hairs on them
sparkle. " Beauty is Truth," says the poet,
and Norman, looking on her with all the
passion of a passionate man, longed to
believe the poet's lie and banish the disap-
pointments of the mind. There was nothing
vulgar or half-educated about her beauty
lips or hands or eyes. Was she not perhaps
simply a child, a soul asleep, repeating like one
ISIS AND APHRODITE 99
in an hypnotic trance the rubbish she had
been forced to learn? Was she not merely
waiting for some violent shock of love or life
to dispel the false personality of the genteel
young Miss and unveil the true Woman, with
all the unconquerable nobility of the peasant
and the curious greatness of the South ?
Norman sighed as he gazed on the lovely
girl and immediately proceeded to eat an
ample meal, washed down with ample wine.
We have mentioned that he was very hungry.
He was thirsty, too, and the white wine of
that country is a good wine, if a little sweet.
Then he took a book and read and looked at
his mistress, exchanging some sufficiently
foolish remarks from time to time. But he was
worried with the strange events of the fore-
noon, impatient to meet his strange mentor
again and not knowing where to find him. Too
soon also he became troubled by the philo-
sophical question, May Beauty be stupid?
and altogether he was not in a mood to be
absorbed by any book at all.
Peronella, a few moments later, looking
up, saw that his eyes had wandered, that the
little book was on the floor, and that his face
expressed deep thought. One does not often
see people thinking in Alsander, and Peron-
ella wondered if it hurt. Coming to the conclu-
sion that it must be uncomfortable to wear
such a face, she got up and went to stand by
100 THE KING OF ALSANDER
Norman's chair. Such a domestic scene has
many an artist of Holland painted to please
the quiet burghers of The Hague. Norman
kissed her somewhat mechanically, and with-
out that intense devotion and fiery rapture
to which she was accustomed.
" What have you been reading that in-
terests you so much and makes you kiss me
in that stupid way ? " she cried.
" It is a little Latin book I brought with me
" In Latin ? What's it all about ? Is it very
" Sit on my knee and I will tell you all
about it. No, don't ruffle my hair, but attend
to lessons. I was reading about a great goddess
who rose up from the sea, whose robe was so
black that it shone ..."
" But I thought she was quite naked."
c Who ? "
" The goddess who came out of the
" Why, who has been telling about the
goddess who rose from the foam ? ' :
" Father Algio in one of his Lent sermons
told us a great deal about her."
Father Algio was an old monk with whom
Norman had talked once or twice: a gentle
soul, but with an odd fire lurking about his
eyes. One realized that if roused by the
trumpet of the Church he would have marched
ISIS AND APHRODITE
like a Crusader to uttermost Taprobane,
fighting for the Lord.
" What had he to say about the Lady
Aphrodite ? "
" Aphrodite, yes, that was her name. How
clever you are ! Oh, the priest said that he
thought the reason why we were so given to
the sins of the flesh was that we were of the
old Greek blood, and had never forgotten the
worship of this lady who came from the sea."
" What an intelligent priest it is ! Peron-
ella, you are a true daughter of Aphrodite."
" Tell me about her, Normano. She was the
goddess of Love ! ' !
" Yes, and she has a son called Cupid and is
drawn in a chariot by violet-throated doves.
Also, Peronella, she has a little silver broom,
with which she drives away the cobwebs from
a man's soul when he has read too many
" And when did she wear the shining
black ? r
" ! this book is not about Aphrodite, it
is about Isis, an Egyptian goddess."
" Egyptian ? That must be interesting. Was
she as beautiful as Aphrodite? Tell me all
" There are different sorts of beauty.
Aphrodite was a graceful, careless and happy
woman, rather like you to look at, and very
much like you in character."
THE KING OF ALSANDER
" How charming of you to say so ! ' !
" While Isis had all Nature to manage, and
the moon and the sea. She was a terrible
goddess, with snakes in her hair, and a great
disc between her breasts. Men loved her none
the less; she was the spirit of all Nature, and
required purity and endurance from her
" Purity and endurance ! And snakes in her
hair! Aphrodite must have been far more
pleasant, especially if she was like me. She was
the patroness of our city, the Father said; and
Dr Sforelli wrote to the papers once to say
that the image of the Virgin in the Cathedral
Church was a heathen statue that some King
put up there and that clothes had been made
for it later. I know that because Father Algio
was so furious at the time that he preached
three sermons against the Jews. But why do
you read such rubbish ? ' !
Norman was irritated by the naiveness of
the remark, and still more irritated with him-
self for being irritated.
" What an ass I am, " he said to himself,
" to talk to a pretty girl about the Classics,
and what a much larger ass to trouble what
she thinks!' 5
Norman had to learn that education makes
prigs of all of us, whether we will or no. Of
wise and learned men only the truly great
can keep their characters free of priggishness,
ISIS AND APHRODITE 103
and even then, what of Marcus Aurelius and
William Wordsworth and John Ruskin ? What
even of Olympian Goethe ?
And there she was, shining, shining.
" You mean," said Norman, " why do I
read such rubbish when I have you to look
And still Peronella shone.
" The book of your eyes is the best book,"
Romance even in her moment could not so
fool him that he did not wish he could have
said " the book of your soul."
Peronella shone, and, by an instinct, shone
" You are the prettiest girl I have ever
seen," said Norman.
And the sun shone on Peronella.
Then though indeed for a moment more
Norman heard the voice of caution, it was but
a voice fading far away. Some arguments
against caution ran through his mind pom-
pous self-depreciation and some inverted
snobbery about " good enough for a grocer
boy." Then the petty arguments were needed
no longer: his mind faded and went out, and
he leapt upon her like a god from Olympus
on some not reluctant spirit of wood or water.
He pressed her to him till he felt as if every
inch of the fiery contact were complete, and
he forgot whole oceans of civilization in a
104 THE KING OF ALSANDER
moment. That is what education is made for,
some might say, it gives us more to forget and
more to abandon in crucial moments of love
He kissed her all round her burning face.
He kissed the soft skin behind her ear where
first he kissed her in the dawn in the best
and earliest hour of all the golden days. He
kissed her smooth and naked arms that
bound his neck like a silver chain. He set
all the snow of her shoulder afire with
kisses, and on her mouth he forgot the
wise advice of Browning and gave her the bee's
The maddening sun still shone on Peron-
ella, on her soft dishevelled robe whence
gleamed what a man might take for a red
rosebud; on her dark hair with the hyacin-
thine shadows where a man might see all the
stars that shine in a Syrian night on her
cheek and throat and her silver arms
but not on her eyes, for, heavy with passion,
they were all but closed.
On Norman, too, shone that great and
primitive Ball of Fire on Norman, as bright
an Adonis as ever ran riot in a gallant tale.
But when they paused for breath, as even
the bravest lovers must, and sat together on
the little blue divan that graced the barren
room ; when Peronella's lips were free to speak,
and Norman's mind was free to meditate
ISIS AND APHRODITE 105
if only for a brief, sharp, cruel moment
how swiftly went the sun behind a cloud !
" When will you marry me ? " said Peron-
ella, " and will you take me to England ? 0, say
you will take me to England, Normano, and
when you drive me round in your carriage all
the world will say, ' That woman cannot be of
our town; she is the most beautiful woman
that we have ever seen/ "
" Darling," said Norman, " let me think of
this moment, of nothing but this moment, and
always of this moment," and he kissed her
But the sun shone no more on Peronella!
And her lover was not thinking only of the
moment. He was thinking of his life. Her
pretty words pierced him like little darts of
ice, and all the comminations of the sages
could not have frightened him more than the
maiden's innocent speech.
He saw in his clear-sighted panic that here
was an end of all bright dreams save this one:
and he knew how soon this dream would
fade. He saw Peronella unhappy a Peron-
ella who could not be afforded a carriage
sulking behind the counter of the Bon Marche,
in the rain. He saw how her beauty would fade
away in England, swiftly, in a few years
and all in a moment she seemed as she sat
there to grow old and tired before him, wasting
away beneath the low, dark northern skies.
106 THE KING OF ALSANDER
He judged her character with Minoan
lightness. He knew she would always be a
child, always be silly, querulous, unfaithful,
passionate: he knew, above all, how soon she
would kill that spark in him that made him
different from other men that spark the poet
bade him cherish. And he feared she would
bore him at breakfast every morning of his
Ah! Peronella was good enough nay, a
prize beyond all dreams! for a Blaindon
grocer: he knew that. But all the brilliant
fantasies and conquering ambitions which his
heart kept so secret that he would not have
spoken of them to his old friend (are there
not wild miracles which we all, even the
sanest of us, hope will happen for our benefit
and glory ?), all these hidden desires and in-
sane fancies came beating upon the doors
of his soul.
Had he been a southerner himself, of
course he would have taken the girl and left
her at his pleasure, the moment the love-glow
faded and the romance grew stale. Her body
was his for a kiss, for a smile, at the worst for
a traitor promise or a roseleaf lie. But he was
an Englishman and perhaps only English-
men can fully understand why Norman, for all
that the thought quivered in his mind, with-
stood, as we say in our canting phrase,
ISIS AND APHRODITE 107
For my part, I think the phrases we use,
especially in books, are canting enough, and
the foreigners rightly scorn us. In no tale
since Tom Jones have we had an honest
Englishman who makes love because it is
jolly and because he doesn't care. With what
a pompous gravity and false seriousness do
we talk, we English men of letters, of a little
lovemaking which in France they pass with
a jest and a smile. Think how our just and
righteous novelists fulminate against the
miscreants of their own creation. Think of
Becky Sharp and her devilish intrigues, of
Seaforth and his vile deceitfulness. For
Thackeray, the Irregular Unionist (if so we may
style those easy livers) is a scourge of high
society: for Dickens, he is an ungodly scoun-
drel, a scourge of low society; for Thomas
Hardy, he is a noble fellow disregarding the
shackles of convention; while the late George
Meredith invariably punishes the amorous
by describing them as intellectual failures.
To-day Mr Shaw would consider Lovelace
disreputable owing to his lack of interest in
social problems, while the pale Nietzscheans
would worship him with ecstatic gasps as a
monstrous fine blonde beast. Our popular
novelists are entirely unaware that such
horrible scoundrels exist, and our legislators
will shortly pass a law which will enable all
offenders against monogamy to be flogged.
108 THE KING OF ALSANDER
Their agitation will be called a " revival of
the old Puritan spirit," and their law will be
applied with rigour to the lower classes. The
French, I say, call us filthy hypocrites.
And yet the accusation, if levelled against
our race and not only against our writers, is
not a true one, however plausible. We are
more restrained than other races, and that
neither because we are less passionate nor
because we are more timorous. Our athletic
youths are purer do not merely say they are
purer, than the diminutive young men abroad.
It is really true there is a special kind of
nobility and generosity in the way our
gentlemen treat women. There is something
in our race that makes us different from other
nations. Call our severe principles a fear of
convention, an outworn chivalry, if you like;
you have not accounted for all cases; perhaps
it is true that an Englishman is more likely
than any other European to love a woman
deeply enough to be content with her for
ever. At all events, it should be remarked how
those Englishmen who through education or
travel have most tolerance for the sins of
others and most opportunity for sinning them-
selves seldom lose their own traditional
scruples. And that is why (to come back to our
hero) Norman, who would never have dreamed
of blaming Tom Jones for his jolly conduct, and
who had read with zeal and appreciation
ISIS AND APHRODITE 109
novelists of France who held the most
scandalous theories concerning the unim-
portance of it all, was nevertheless unable
to make love to a girl whom he intended to
desert. Besides, it struck him, the girl had
never yet yielded to a lover. For him the dilem-
ma was clear : he must marry this girl or leave
her, and the thought came over him like that
One clear nice
Cool squirt of water o'er the bust,
The right thing to extinguish lust.
Now had he accepted this dilemma bravely,
and fled that very hour from the siren pre-
sence, he would have had only a flirtation and
a few kisses to store up against the hour of
remorse. But he fought shy of drastic mea-
sures and sought to gain time like a Turkish
diplomat. Perhaps, too, he wanted to stay in
Alsander yet a little longer to inquire into the
mystifications of his tramp guide, and await
instructions as to the promised " career of
good works." At all events, there is no doubt
that as far as the procrastination business
went, he found suddenly a great inspiration
in the curious parting command which the
old poet had given him. He would weave a
mystery about himself. He would thus not
only obey the fantastic injunction of the poet,
but find a most practical means of escape
from a perilous position.
110 THE KING OF ALSANDER
He shook himself free of the twining arms
roughly and suddenly, as though he had just
remembered something, and paced up and
down the room as one lost in thought.
" Why, what is it ? " said Peronella. She
was always alarmed at seeing a man medi-
tate. Such is the profound instinct of women !
But Norman, intent now on playing his part
with thoroughness and efficiency, made no
answer, and going over to the window frowned
gloomily and began to mutter to himself.
" Tell me what is the matter," cried the girl,
running over to him. " Are you ill ? 9!
" Ah ! " said Norman. " I wish I could tell
you what is the matter. There is more the
matter than you know of, dear, and my heart
is as heavy as lead."
" Why, what ever has happened ? " said the
girl, and her face grew longer still.
" Forgive me, Peronella. I should not have
" You say your heart is heavy as lead. Tell
me what is troubling you ! "
" Oh ! a little secret trouble, that is all."
" What trouble can be secret between you
and me ? ' :
" Do not speak of it again, dear. Forget it.
I am sorry I hinted that anything was wrong."
"You are not deceiving me, Normano ? You
do not love an English girl ? "
" No, it is not that."
ISIS AND APHRODITE 111
" Then what is it ? You must tell me."
Norman sat on the table and put his hands
on the girl's shoulders.
" Well, then, who do you suppose I am ? "
he asked, with a half -smile.
" Why, an Englishman, of course."
" An Englishman. But what Englishman ?
And why should I come to Alsander and live in
Alsander ? "
" But why not ? Other Englishmen have
come to Alsander."
<; Yes, but to buy and sell."
This crude artifice was quite enough to
trouble the wits of Peronella.
" It is very strange," she said, musing,
" and Cesano said it was strange, but who
are you, then, by all the Saints ? 9!
c That I cannot tell you, Peronella."
" Well, what have you come for if not to
buy and sell? Besides," added Peronella,
passionately, "I love you, and that is enough.
What do I care who you are ? ' !
" If your love were deep, perhaps you
would care who I was."
The saying of this sentence was the worst
thing Norman ever did in his life. His con-
science haunted him for years and never let
him forget those dozen careless words and their
Peronella did not understand him, nor
attempt to, but blazed out in a fury,
112 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" How dare you come and tell lies and
pretend to be what you aren't and deceive
us all ? It's all lies, you don't care for me one
bit, and I am a little fool ! " cried Peronella,
on the brink of tears and truth.
" How have I deceived you ? " said Nor-
" You never told me who you were. You
come and pretend to be what you are not. You
make love to me, and now I see you want to
" You never asked me. I am not running
away," said Norman, breathlessly, seeing this
" I ask you now."
" Look here," said the hypocrite. " Listen
to me and trust me. No, you know I am not
lying to you. Look into my eyes and see. I
ask just one thing of you. Wait three months
and you shall have an answer and know who
" Don't tell more lies and talk more non-
sense, species of brute," said the girl,
" Ah, Peronella, I wish I were talking non-
And the infernal fellow put on an air of
sorrow and nobility.
" Wait three months," he repeated, " and
then see if you want to marry me, or dare to
want to marry me," he added with magnilo-
ISIS AND APHRODITE 113
(juence, thoroughly ashamed of himself but
too deep in the mire to get free.
" 0, Normano, what do you mean ? Shall I
kill you or believe you ? 5!
" Wait a little while, dear," he said, bending
over her with a not feigned tenderness. " Wait
a little while and you shall see."
Steps were heard on the stair.
" Here is Cesano," said Peronella, and forth-
with Cesano came in with an ineffable air of
being ori his best behaviour. Norman took
his opportunity and went, and with a bow
which his fuming rival took for supercilious
generosity bade them both good-night.
In the loneliness of his bedroom he fell on
his bed like a penitent child and cursed him-
self for a mean scoundrel. As for Peronella,
the first words she said to Cesano were:
" There is a mystery about my Englishman,
I wonder who he is," and thereupon she
repeated to him the whole conversation.
True, he had not told her to keep the secret,
but in any case she could not have kept one.
It was to be the first thing Cesano was to tell
Petro the cobbler when he saw him later that
evening, and the first thing Petro the cobbler
told Father Algio when he came in for a cup of
coffee tow r ards midnight, and the first thing
Father Algio told to all his numerous acquain-
tance. Norman woke up next morning famous
and a mystery, and was stared at in the street
114 THE KING OF ALSANDER
even more than before. Peronella was perhaps
pleased to pass for the mistress of a mystery,
Cesano's hopes revived and all seemed for the
best in the best of all possible worlds for
three spacious months to come, at least. So
THE SOCIETY FOR THE ADVANCE-
MENT OF ALSANDER
This impossible story of a mad king and ]a throne
An anticipated critic.
The unfortunate indisposition of the old King of
Bavaria. . . .
The Prince of Wied is spoken of as a likely candidate
for the throne of Albania.
The Daily Papers.
THERE is a King in a Tragedy of Maeterlinck
who woefully exclaims, " Wherever I am,
nothing happens." But the old fellow was
accustomed to uneventfulness; Norman had
reason to expect something better of life, and
the mysterious words of the old poet had led
him to hope for thrills and sensations. The four
days succeeding the day of the interview with
Peronella, described in the last chapter, drew
blanks in the game of his destiny. On the
fifth day he was walking moodily about, trying
to extract amusement from the inquisitive
glances with which a subtly deceived populace
already eyed him, when he heard a voice at
his shoulder saying in good English, " Keep
116 THE KING OF ALSANDER
it up," but though he turned quickly he could
see no one in the street who appeared at all
guilty of the observation, which might have
Another week passed, and the old resolve to
leave Alsander again took possession of
Norman's mind. Remorse at his hypocrisy, and
longings for Peronella, gnawed his heart: while
he felt that if he did not speedily retire from
the scene startling harm would come of what
was really a loveless passion. He decided, how-
ever, not to leave her without getting her a
present, which he shrewdly (but I think un-
justly) suspected would compensate the girl
for the loss of a lover. And of course he re-
membered that the old Poet, whom by now he
had almost given up as a fraud, had given
special advice in this matter too. Well, he
could but follow it, and see if there was any-
thing to be found for Peronella in the little
dark shop the Poet had recommended, and
which he himself had discovered almost his
first day in Alsander. He therefore invited her
to come with him and choose herself a present.
When they arrived in front of the little shop
it looked more fascinating than ever. It had
evidently been rearranged, and seemed to
Norman to exhibit more amusing things in its
narrow frontage than all the other shops in
Alsander set on end. For it contained snuff-
boxes, shawls, dirty old silver, tattered bits of
ADVANCEMENT OF ALSANDER 117
embroidery, carved walking sticks, some worm-
eaten books, last century oak settees, Turkish
zarfs, Hittite cylinders, Chinese saucers full
of Greek and Roman coins, real stones and
bits of glass, animals in beaten bronze ware
from Damascus, very old leather bottles from
England, some forged Egyptian antiquities,
some very horrible cameos, some rather
pretty intaglios, about three quarters of what
had been a fine Persian rug, and boxes of
things and cases of things and bales of things
and trays of things, and all of them finely
powdered with a most pestilential dust.
They entered. Peronella, spitting and sneez-
ing without restraint, exclaimed loudly and
bitterly (with utter disregard to the feelings
of the shopkeeper, a pretty, slender, dark-
eyed, young fellow, who seemed quite out of
place among his musty surroundings) that
there was nothing to be found there and what
he had dragged her there for she couldn't
imagine when there was that nice new shop
where they sold wonders from Ulmreich ever
so much nearer home. Norman, undaunted,
was preparing to turn the shop upside down
to show Peronella what marvels were to be
found there if one only knew, when he was
surprised to hear the shopkeeper exclaim
quietly and rapidly in English, " Send her
away, I want to talk to you." Now this was
indeed startling, for it was only an accident
118 THE KING OF ALSANDER
that had led him to the shop on that par-
ticular day. However, at all events, Norman,
eager to fathom the mystery, rose to the occa-
sion. Perhaps this was the poet's hand and he
had recommended the shop on purpose.
" Look here, Peronella," he said, imme-
diately. " If you don't like the dust (and it is
dusty here) why don't you go home without
me ? I'll stay here and find something. Be-
sides, I would much rather bring you home a
" But suppose I don't like it," she ob-
jected. " You told me I might choose, and I'm
sure there is nothing in this dusty, musty rat
cupboard of a place."
" I'll arrange that it can be changed. Or I'll
get something you do like as well," he added,
with ridiculous vainglory, for his hundred
pounds were ebbing faster than the sands of
" Very well," said Peronella, half convinced
and pouting. " If you don't want me, I'll go."
And more in pique than compliance she left
him alone with the fine young shopman, who
was really a remarkably graceful young man,
and one who obviously had no doubts as to his
own good looks. Indeed he had ostentatiously
set them off by wearing the national costume
of Alsander puffed breeches, pleated silk
shirt, and a short loose coat with wing-like
sleeves, of dark blue gracefully lined with gold.
ADVANCEMENT OF ALSANDER 119
This costume appeared all the more striking
to Norman, as he had never seen one before;
for it is rarely worn by the Alsandrians except
on ceremonial occasions.
" What service can I be to you, sir? " said
Norman. Himself a shopkeeper, he knew the
value of a gentlemanly treatment, and did not
allow his curiosity to get the better either of
his self-control or of his manners.
" The question," replied the dealer in
antiques, in a very soft and gentle voice,
"is not so much what you can do for me as
what you can do for yourself."
" And what can I do for myself ? 9! in-
quired Norman, wondering at the fine but
feminine beauty of the young man.
" The question is not really so much what
you can do for yourself as what you can do for
" The question is," retorted Norman, with
some heat, " exactly how long the pantomime
season is going to last ? "
" The reply in general is for as long as
woman gives birth to child: in particular, for
as long as the A. A. A. is uncertain of your
" And what is the A.A.A. ? ' !
" It is," replied the shopman, " the Asso-
ciation for the Advancement of Alsander."
" I am sure that it is an admirable society."
"Like all earthly institutions," observed
120 THE KING OF ALSANDER
the dandified young shopman, with a sen-
tentiousness ill befitting his years, " it has its
defects, but want of precaution is not one of
" And where does it meet ? "
" Here," said the shopman, briefly.
" And when does it meet ? "
" Now," was the reply, followed almost
immediately by a clatter and a crash as if all
the machinery of a steam-mill had started
with a jerk. Norman had just time to see the
shutters going down; then he found himself
in total darkness.
" What in Hell do you mean by this ? " he
cried out, thunderstruck: but the shopman
gave no answer or other sign of existence, and
Norman suddenly realized with dismay that
he was alone and a prisoner. For a moment or
two he groped and fumbled in the dark. Then
he remembered his matches. He found three
and lit them one by one. They cast all sorts of
curious and flickering shadows from odd-
shaped objects like crocodile gods and water-
skins; one by one they went out. Norman was
only the wiser in as far as the little light had
lasted long enough for him to find out that the
end of the shop had no exit and that his
interloctuor had certainly disappeared, and
he therefore spared himself the trouble of
stumbling about in the dark for a means of
escape. " This is fun," he thought boyishly,
ADVANCEMENT OF ALSANDER 121
and sat down on what he had seen to be a
horribly dusty and cracked Chippendale chair
to await proceedings. When ten minutes had
passed he began to scratch his head; after
twenty minutes the room had grown insuf-
ferably stifling and the philosophic mood had
passed: after half-an-hour he had formulated
a scheme in accordance with which he would
use the hindquarters of a large brass elephant,
probably Indian, which he had noticed faintly
glimmering on a shelf, as a battering ram.
His idea was that with so heavy an implement
he could break a hole in the shutters, which
seemed to have closed automatically, or at
least by hammering attract the attention of
some passers by in the street outside. He was
about to act on this ingenious plan and had
already grasped the elephant firmly by one
leg when his ear was attracted by a noise of
heavy breathing from behind the shop, and a
fumbling sound which suggested the turning
of keys. The next instant a sort of panel-door
opened at the back of the shop, flooding the
pla,ce with a light that made Norman blink,
and a butler, who, with his side whiskers,
livery and portly presence looked so like a
butler that he positively made Norman gasp,
said in the most servile and insinuating
English, " Would you step this way, sir? 5!
Norman stepped, hoping that a chance had
come at last of discovering the meaning, if
122 THE KING OF ALSANDER
any, of what he now felt sure was a superb
and intricate joke. He followed the butler-
like butler down a bare corridor and was
ushered into a large room, which he judged
from a symbol AA, which was hung on a bit
of cardboard on the wall opposite and was the
first thing that struck his eye, could be
nothing else than the head-quarters of the
Alsander Advancement Association. But the
room, which was neither sumptuous nor sor-
did, but eminently respectable, was a disap-
pointment to Norman, and so were the pre-
sumed Associates, to whom the same adjec-
tives were applicable. They were sitting at
the end of the room behind a long table for all
the world as if they were a board of examiners,
and were all dressed in badly-cut frock coats.
In front of each was a sheet of clean foolscap,
pen, ink, and blotting paper. The young
shopman sat in the centre in a slightly more
comfortable chair, radiant in his extravagant
costume as a parrot among crows ; but Norman
scanned their faces in vain to find the old Poet
whom he naturally expected would be present
on this mysterious occasion.
" Take a chair, my man, take a chair," said
a wizened little old fellow, with a fussy,
"Certainly," said Norman, not pleased
with the style of address, and he seated
himself opposite the shopman, where the
ADVANCEMENT OF ALSANDER 123
pingle unoccupied chair in the room was
" I hear," observed the little old man
again, but in grave and serious tones, " that
you are a candidate for the Crown of Al-
HOW NORMAN FAILED TO PASS A
QUALIFYING EXAMINATION FOR
THE POST OF KING OF ALSANDER,
AND WAS WHIPPED: TOGETHER
WITH A DIGRESSION ON THE EX-
CELLENCE OF WHIPPING
Les cris ne sont pas des chants.
NORMAN was about to laugh at this unusual
question when he seemed to catch the eyes of
the Board of Examiners at once (for he could
think of them under no other designation). All
the eyes seemed to be looking at him with such
peering intentness that he began to believe
that they were all unintentional and not
intentional lunatics, and therefore dangerous.
So he simply bowed. If it is a joke, thought
Norman, that will be in keeping; if it is not,
it will be expected of me. And he thought
" Very good," said the little man, abruptly.
" I think, Doctor," he continued, turning to
a prominent Hebrew on his left, " that the
preliminary examination should be con-
ducted by you in person."
HOW NORMAN FAILED 125
" I will begin at once. Take off your
clothes," said the Doctor, addressing the last
remark to Norman in a tone of command.
" But really ..." began Norman, in ex-
" Absolutely necessary, I assure you," con-
tinued the Doctor. " For the proper exercise
of monarchical functions nothing, not even
courtesy, not even common sense, is more
important than a sound physical condition.
To judge of that condition it is imperative
that you should tal$e off your clothes. I may
add," he continued, not unkindly, " that
considering your general appearance I do not
think that you will have much difficulty in
satisfying the examiners on that score."
Norman was so puzzled by the evident
gravity of the heavy-bearded doctor's speech
and demeanour that he began to believe that
a certain mad seriousness underlay the whole
proceedings. It seemed to him unlikely that a
dozen lunatics possessed of a common mania
should find such a facility of meeting together
in solemn assembly, even in Alsander. The
poet, whom he still believed to be the prime
instigator of this curious comedy, though
eccentric, was no madman. So, having rapidly
summed up in his mind the pros and cons of
the case, Norman cautiously took off his
However nothing less than complete nudity
126 THE KING OF ALSANDER
would satisfy the Doctor, and Norman, with
growing reluctance, shed garment upon gar-
ment till, in the words of the Eastern poet,
" the shining almond came out of his dusky
shell," and " the petals of the rose lay strewn
upon the ground." However, at a word from the
shopman, who seemed in authority, Norman
was permitted to retain as much clothing as
would satisfy the by-laws of a very free
bathing resort. The Doctor then rose, came
round the table, and, seizing hold of the
unfortunate, tappet him, pinched him,
prodded him, poked him, felt his muscles,
sounded his chest, examined his tongue, blew
in his ears, slapped his stomach and tried his
pulse. All this to the intense aggravation of
But when the Doctor finally commanded
him to run round the room as he was and
climb along the rope that dangled from the
ceiling, the boy succumbed to over-mastering
" I am not going to stand any more damned
nonsense from you or anybody else," cried
Norman. "This joke has gone quite far enough,
and though it may amuse you vastly to make
a fool of me I'll knock down the next one of
you who tries it on."
The effect of his words was as instan-
taneous as he could have wished; there could
be no mistaking the anger that flashed in the
HOW NORMAN FAILED 127
eyes of these curious examiners. Even Nor-
man, in the heat of his excitement, noticed
that, though he failed to notice that the
youthful President's face (for the young shop-
keeper seemed to be President, to judge from
his central chair) remained unmoved save for
a slight ocular twinkle. It was the President,
however, who addressed him: " I am afraid,"
he said, " that we shall have to ask you to
dress and leave us at once."
" I won't leave the room until you apolo-
gize to me, and if you don't apologize I'll
punch your head." And Norman, all but
naked as he was, began to bend up and down
a very decent right arm and seemed well
capable of executing his threat.
" You should be more patient, sir," ob-
served the President, waving towards Norman
his gold-embroidered sleeve with a conciliating
smile. " I assure you that it is to your advan-
tage to obey us, and very much to your dis-
advantage to be rude. I admit that our
demands, coming from total strangers, seem
both impertinent and extravagant, but I
assure you that they are necessary, and I
should like to impress you with the earnest-
ness of this apparently inane procedure. The
Doctor only desires to see your muscles in
motion. I assure you, your body is not a
thing of which you need be ashamed. Should
you disobey, you will be in serious danger."
128 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" I don't believe you. You dare not touch
me. I am an Englishman," retorted Norman,
refusing to be conciliated.
" I am afraid," replied the President, ring-
ing a little electric bell which was under his
hand, " that we shall have to give you imme-
diate proof of the earnestness of our intentions
and our power to cause you a disadvantage."
At once four guards entered the room,
whom Norman from their uniform and faces
recognized to be the very palace guards who
had let him and the supposed beggar pass
into the palace the day of their memorable
visit. Unfortunately for Norman, they wore
no longer the air of benevolent sleepiness
which had characterized them on that former
occasion; they were obviously wide awake and
attentive to command.
" Do you still refuse to perform the exercises
demanded of you ? " inquired the President.
" Yes," said Norman, stubbornly.
" Haul him up," said the President quietly,
but with anger in his eyes.
Norman found his wrists seized before he
could make the slightest resistance, and he
was swung up on to the back of the tallest of
" Do you refuse also to apologize ? " said the
" Let him go away quietly," said the Presi-
HOW NORMAN FAILED 129
dent. " Why should we hurt him ? We cannot
expect him to understand us."
" I insist on an apology. I will not leave the
room without it," said Norman. " As for you,
you soppy little fool ..."
His bewilderment rapidly gave place to
alarm. He wished he had not been quite so
rude to the President, who, after all, had been
polite. Still, he hoped he might be simply
undergoing some form of Test by Verification,
like the legendary Masonic hot poker. At
least, I suppose it is legendary. But when from
the tail of his eye he beheld from his undigni-
fied perch a horsewhip in the hands of one of
the guards, he tried to remember the suffer-
ings of his days in the village school at Blain-
don, which, after all, were not of such remote
He wondered, like the schoolboy, how
many ? If, that is, he really was to suffer after
His apprehensions were confirmed and
relieved by the President, who exclaimed in a
wickedly gentle voice, " I'm very sorry, but
I suppose you must give him a dozen." The
maniac examiners were quite capable, he had
felt convinced, of beating him to death, and a
dozen ? Why, a dozen was about the extent of
the good old pedagogic punishments, which
he had endured stolidly in his time, and many
130 THE KING OF ALSANDER
A new question surged through his mind.
What was the brawny guard about to aim at ?
Was the supreme indignity to be conferred
upon him before all these pompous personages
to emphasize his unfitness for dignity? Nor-
man hoped so, for, to tell the truth, he didn't
care a damn about the dignity, but he thought
it would hurt less and was more used to it.
Meantime he had never felt so cold, and the
rough cloth of the guard who was holding his
wrists so tightly grated unpleasantly against
his naked chest.
His dignity was not damaged. His shoulders
were. He discovered his old pedagogue to
have been the mildest and most inefficient
flagellator in the world. Let us leave him to
his punishment and philosophize a little.
Philosophy and the whip? Is there not
always some subtle connexion ? Has not a
whipping always meant for us something more
than a whipping ? Is it not a symbol ? Think of
this, youthful reader, if you are still in the
happy days of subjection and possibility, and
may it comfort you in the hour of trial. The
Spartans formed their character, the Romans
ruled the world, with whippings. With little
whips the Kings of Egypt made the Jews work
with their hands honest manual toil, to which
that race no longer much inclines; he built
his pyramid and flogged a great nation into
life. But the East, the golden East in the
HOW NORMAN FAILED 131
golden days that was the world for whip-
pings. In other climes and other times, whip-
ping has been a symbol of degradation; in
murderous Russia it has been, they say it is,
something too foul for the philosopher to
look at. But when there were Caliphs in
Bagdad, then whipping was the joyous symbol
of democracy. Are you rich and powerful, the
Caliph's friend? Tread delicately on those
rich carpets: the day comes when to put foot
to the finest Bokhara may be a torment to
make you howl. Are you a poor pedlar selling
glasses from a tray ? Repine not at your bare-
foot treading of the cobbled lanes: it is all
practice for the soles; you shall fare better
than your proud neighbour on the day of
affliction. Quick! Bow your head: put your
hands in the sleeves of your tattered abba.
The great Vizier is coming, the Window of
Heaven, the Tulip of the Garden of Govern-
ment, the Sun's Moon, the Vizier. And behind
him, Allah! the blazing luminary of the
universe itself! Where shall you hide from
those dazzling rays ? The Caliph comes. Some
insolent retainer has kicked over all your
glasses. Your little fortune has gone. No
longer will you cry:
" sunset, sunrise, ocean drops my glasses,
emeralds, rubies, sapphires, my glasses ! "
Your wife will curse you, your children will
132 THE KING OF ALSANDER
starve; your dreams of a little ease are shat-
tered with the shining crystals; your fortune
lies with them prostrate in the dirt. You
crouch in the doorway. But ho ! what is that ?
The Vizier's horse has shied, he is kicking, he
has kicked the Sun of the Universe off his
saddle. All that splendour is smirching the
bashful mud! Forgetting yourself, you rush
to help him; your dirty, horny fingers pick up
Perfection, careless of sacrilege. You wait and
tremble, for Perfection is himself again. The
Vizier is pale. The Monarch gives a sign to the
blackest of his black negroes. Down comes the
Tulip of the Garden of Government. The Vizi-
erial beard is in the dirt; the Sun's Moon's feet
are all in air and looped into a pole: the blows
fall, the Tulip howls and you? The Caliph
has embraced you and made you Vizier on the
spot. Such is a whipping in the East.
So much, then, for whipping from the point
of view of historical geography. It has other
aspects too vast for mention here. The
individual aspect, or the whippings inflicted
on the famous, on Psyche by Venus, on Aris-
totle by Phyllis, on St Paul by the Romans,
on Henry Plantagenet by the monks, on
Milton by his College, on Voltaire by a lackey,
on Shelley by a schoolmaster. We read of the
latter that he writhed on the floor not because
he was hurt but out of shame. Ethereal
HOW NORMAN FAILED 133
Or take the literary aspect. Take the heroes
of famous books what whacks and thwacks
they encounter, especially in all books that
are an epitome of world life. From Apuleius
to Don Quixote, from Oil Bias to Tom Jones,
from Candide to Richard Feverel, there is no
great book without its whipping.
And there are those who say children should
not be whipped ! They are right, dear youth-
ful reader, they are entirely right. It is we
who should be whipped, we adults, we pom-
pous people, we who are so ready to torture
the young and who have quite forgotten the
bitterness of the torture we inflict. It is we
who should be whipped, we who dread the
dentist, we whose waistcoats bulge and
blossom into gold watch chains. And cri-
minals ? we flog them still, but only the poor,
violent, rough fellow who does a bit of
straightforward business. It is that fat finan-
cier whose juicy back I want to see streaked
with red like a rasher of bacon; it is that ape-
like vestryman whose yells would be music
to my ears; it is, above all, the proprietor of
pills that I would strap down to his alliterative
and appropriate post, the pillory.
None of the above reflections occurred to
Norman. His literary knowledge did not help
him. He seemed to have spent whole years
being whipped. He felt as if his lungs would
burst. But the executioner laid on steadily and
134 THE KING OF ALSANDER
evenly, till the victim's back looked like a
sheet of music paper. Then he was abruptly
let down and writhed for half a minute with
rapidly decreasing pain. And about this let
the philosopher say one word more. Whipping
is not strictly torture. It does not deform. It
leaves no ill effects. And therefore many a
parent who would shudder to use rack or thumb-
screw to our children, think nothing of whip-
ping them. But it need not hurt much less.
Norman, in absolute silence, put on his
clothes. The examiners meanwhile filed out
of the hall; the young shopman-president
alone remained. For a mad moment Norman
thought he saw tears in the President's eyes
and pity in his face; but his own vision was
dim, and certainly it seemed improbable that
the brute who had ordered the whipping
should be affected thereby to tears. When
Norman was dressed the President said,
" Follow me, I will let you out." Norman
obeyed silently. They went alone together
into the little shop. The boy had already
begun to plot revenge, and now thought he
saw his opportunity. Calculating the moment
and the distance, he suddenly sprang like a
tiger on the President. His effort was attended
by no success. He found himself lying on the
floor as swiftly as a skater who has tripped on
" Do you think I was not prepared ? " said
HOW NORMAN FAILED 135
the President, smiling, as Norman picked
himself up. And somehow, for all that his back
was still aching, the charm and beauty of the
young man, his soft voice and his insinuating
smile, changed Norman's wrath into a sort of
" So that's all I'm to get for coming with
you," said Norman, like a rueful schoolboy.
" You've forgotten even the present suitable
for a lady."
" You're a wonderful person," muttered
the President. " It's a pity we had to reject
you." And opening a drawer he drew out a
very beautiful jewelled clasp.
Norman muttered, " How much ? " and
felt in his pocket. He knew the receipts of
Price's Bon Marche would not have paid for
it in fifty years if the stones were real.
" You have earned it this time," said the
President, " and please not to take me for a
shopkeeper again," and, opening the door
into the street, he waited for Norman to go
out. The boy hesitated.
" Tell me, to whom does all this belong ? "
he asked, voicing questions that troubled his
mind. " And where is the Old Poet ? And why
did he choose me as a subject for his unplea-
sant jokes ? "
" Good evening," said the President,
pointedly. " I have nothing further to say to
you but this, that if you say one word, one
136 THE KING OF ALSANDER
little word, to a soul of what has happened
to-night there are worse things awaiting for
you than whipping." And with these ominous
words he closed the door and shut Norman
out into the street.
" This comes," said Norman, bitterly, " of
following the advice of poets ! "
Again in the mist and shadow of sleep
He saw his native land.
THE hero of this and all our adventures, feel-
ing unheroic and disinclined for further traffic
with his fellows, did not proceed to the board
of the Widow Prasko, or to the no less hospit-
able embrace of her lovely daughter, but
nursed revenge and a sore back by a walk
on the walls. The path along the summit
of these old fortifications is broad and
smooth: it commands sea, mountains, town
and all four corners of the heavens; many
lovers, dreamers and successful suicides have
passed that way. Yet surely it would need
more than the vivid recollection of a sound
thrashing to make a man leave such a pro-
spect as that wall affords, especially westward,
to the mountains and the setting sun. So
Norman walked along the walls and not off
How to attain satisfaction ? Whom to seek
in this dilemma ? How to be revenged and not
ridiculed? How, above all, to get level with
those lunatics without again being stripped
138 THE KING OF ALSANDER
and whipped like a schoolboy or enduring a
worse thing, according to the strange young
President's threat ? What was the meaning of
it, the sense of it, the clue to this mysterious
and painful practical joke ? Where, above all,
was that ancient scoundrel of a poet and in
what disguise, and why was he not present at
the scene? Had the old curiosity shop been
invented from the very beginning simply to
attract him? How could they have known
he would take the Poet's hint and look there
for the present ? How was it they were all pre-
pared for him when he came? And, finally,
what was the real value of the handsome
buckle which he was to give Peronella? He
pulled it out of his pocket: if the stones were
real, and they looked it, he judged it to be
worth a fabulous sum. For a moment he
thought it might all have been a plot of
Cesano's to befool him. But common sense
soon rejected that theory: so artistic and
elaborate a practical joke was far beyond the
conception of that thin-brained cavalier.
Norman walked twice round the walls in
hopeless bewilderment, and longed to find a
trusty soul to whom he could impart the
whole affair. Then, as for the third time he
faced the East, the sun of inspiration blazed
full on the fields of his intellect.
Visions of Britain's might awake to pro-
tect her humblest subject rolled across his
THE CONSUL 139
mind; of Dreadnoughts blackening the hori-
izon, of a ten minutes' bombardment, of being
hauled from prison by merry bluejackets
pouring brandy down his throat, of shaking
hands with a clean-shaven Admiral, of a
protectorate over Alsander, and the immediate
repaving of the roads and reconstruction of
Was there no British Consulate in Al-
Comforted by a resolve to appeal to the
might of Britain, he returned at once to the
board of the Widow Prasko and the no less
hospitable arms of her charming daughter.
They had been quite anxious about him.
" And where is it ? " was the girl's first
He pulled out the exquisite toy, and
Peronella cooed with delight.
ic My dear Peronella, it is far, far too good for
you," said her mother, beaming with osten-
sible gratification, and burning to know
whether any of the stones could possibly not
" Did you really find that in that poky
little shop ? " said Peronella. .
" Oh, yes," said Norman. " It is a wonderful
place, if you really only knew it."
" And look at that pattern round the bor-
der," said the observant widow. " How
nicely it's worked, and so small."
140 THE KING OF ALSANDER
"It is indeed," said the boy, examining it
for the first time and turning a little pale.
This was the pattern: wtf : and it re-
minded him unpleasantly of the symbol he had
seen that afternoon.
However, Norman, strong in his new im-
perial faith, went to his room, nearly cricked
his neck examining the stripes in the mirror
to see if they were still there and in good order
for exhibition, turned in and slept.
Rising betimes the next morning he set
out upon his quest. It was a long one, and
the said new-born faith in the omnipotence
of the British flag underwent a severe trial
during this voyage of exploration, for some
people seemed never to have heard of " Bri-
tish " and some never to have heard of
" Consulate." Those who understood the
meaning of these magic words in general
failed to illuminate him in particular. Peron-
ella and her mother belonged to this latter
category, and so did most of the people he
met in the street. At last he was informed in
a draper's shop that it was down in a street
off the Palace square. He arrived at the house
indicated after a diligent and toilsome search
and found it to let and uninhabited. He spent
another half-hour scouring the cafes for the
caretaker. The caretaker, having been plied
with many drinks, directed him to a street
off the Cathedral square at the other end of
THE CONSUL 141
the town. Having arrived there, he discovered
the street and the number. He found himself
in front of a preposterously tall house in a
state of violent ruin, which appeared about
to fall on his head. It bore no outward con-
sular sign at first glance, but by standing well
back on the opposite side of the narrow street
and craning his neck Norman could just
discern what might be a coat-of-arms above
a window on the top floor. He began the
ascent of a staircase which deserved all the
epithets usually applied to such staircases. He
discovered during the long and intricate ascent
that the house, or rather tower, contained a
singular variety of inmates. On the ground
floor was a shop where an extremely aged man
with large spectacles was carefully affixing
small bits of gold braid to form one of the
gorgeous patterns which adorn the festal
dress of Alsandrian beauty. The first floor was
devoted to the offices of an insurance company,
which Norman hoped had insured its own
premises. On the second floor a photographer
exhibited the terrifying results of his art. The
contents of the third floor were to be judged
from a show-case fixed on the wall in which
whole mouthf uls of false teeth were symmetri-
cally arranged. But the entrance to the fourth
floor was guarded by a portal on which, by the
aid of a match, Norman discovered bell-push
and the gratifying legend, "British Consulate."
142 THE KING OF ALSANDER
The door opened mechanically. " A very
advanced door," thought Norman as he
stepped in, " for this locality." He found him-
self in a small and neat office, at the first
glance not remarkable. Afterwards he noticed,
to his surprise, that it was full of contrivances,
such as wires and switches and taps some-
thing between a railway signal-box and the
manager's bureau in a telephone exchange.
Its only occupant was a thin man, with
ruffled, mud-coloured hair, who was rattling
on a typewriter with as much vigour as an
amateur pianist thumping the presto of the
" What do you want ? " said the typist-
clerk, very rapidly and sharply, in the tone of
a vixenish and virtuous housewife accosted by
blundering vice in a dark street.
" I should like to see the Consul," replied
" Why ? " said the clerk, clicking on a new
line and rattling off again.
" Even the British Consulate has gone mad
in Alsander," thought Norman, in despair.
" Or does he mean to be rude ? 9!
" I have some urgent private affairs to dis-
cuss," he said.
" Passport ? " urged the clerk.
" I'm afraid I haven't got one," said Nor-
" Name ? " insisted the clerk.
THE CONSUL 143
" Price," snapped Norman, thankful it was
The clerk seized a table telephone with one
hand, while he still fumbled the keys with the
" Price private no passport," he shouted
into the vulcanite ear.
" I must have come to the American Con-
sulate by mistake," thought Norman, amazed
at this un-British efficiency.
" In ! " roared a voice into the telephone.
Norman could clearly hear it; it came from
the next room.
The clerk pushed a button, the inner door
opened, and Norman found himself in the
presence of H.B.M. Consul,* Alsander.
The appearance of the Consul and his
apartment, although peculiar, was the reverse
of terrifying, as Norman was glad to find, after
the mechanical horrors of the clerk's abode.
In fact, it had hardly the appearance of a
office at all. It was true the Consul was sitting
at a large desk and wearing a very smart
frockcoat, and that on the desk in con-
spicuous positions were volumes labelled
Foreign Office Year Book, Circulars, Trade
Reports, Miscellaneous, Shipping, Marriage
* I should perhaps mention that the Consul of Alsander
bears not the slightest resemblance to any Consul in
the Levant, Alsander being of course a much coveted
retiring post in the General Consular Service.
144 THE KING OF ALSANDER
Register, etc. But the walls of the room
presented a curiously unofficial appearance.
They were papered with a thick-looking dull
black paper, and ornamented with designs
in black and white by Aubrey Beardsley,
The carpet was a dull purple, indeed the room
was in such harmony (except for the vivid
letter-box red of the Foreign Office Year Book)
that Norman felt his light-coloured waistcoat
and pink cheeks to be unpardonable. The
Consul himself was dressed with such a subtle
lack of ostentation and was himself of such
unostentatious appearance that Norman could
not for a whole second discover him at all.
At length he made out that the official had
long drooping whiskers and was smoking a
calabash and writing with his left hand, his
right being apparently paralysed.
" Good morning," he said to Norman, in
a very cheerful voice, rising to receive him.
" Forgive my left," he continued, cordially,
as he extended that member. " A little acci-
dent, you know, Bulgarian bomb at Monastir,
in the old days before the war. Compensation,
you know. Well, then. However, there we are.
Sit down. Take a chair. Or fill a pipe."
" I am so sorry to take up your time," said
Norman, settling down in an all-black arm-
chair and reaching out for a match.
" My dear sir," said the Consul. " I am de-
lighted to see you. I may tell you I have been
THE CONSUL 145
Consul in Alsander for two years and this
is the first time I have received a visit in my
official capacity. Have you " his voice sunk
into an expectative whisper " have you a
passport, signed and in order ? "
" I am very much afraid," said Norman, " I
neglected to get one."
" That is unfortunate, most unfortunate.
But " here his voice sunk to a guilty whisper
" I might give you one. At all events, I
assure you I am defighted to see you. Alsander
is very slow, very slow, indeed."
" But you must be very busy," hazarded
Norman. " I have never seen anyone so busy
as your clerk."
" Ah, my dear sir, we must keep up ap-
pearances, you know. I let him think that I
never have a moment to spare. I may tell
you that I have been here two years and have
not written an official letter since the day I
announced my arrival. Such a change from
Pemambuco, my previous post. There I never
had a minute ! "
" But he's typing like mad," said Norman,
surprised, and quite unable to rid himself of
the impression of the furious energy which
had seemed to him to pervade the outer
A faint smile suffused the countenance of
the Consul as he explained.
" Oh, I keep him employed, copying scraps
146 THE KING OF ALSANDER
of old blue books, you know, and that sort of
thing. Might be useful some day."
c You must find life monotonous."
" Ah, yes. Such a change from Pernam-
buco. No casino, no theatre. The theatre at
Pernambuco was delightful. This, you know,
is one of our quietest posts. Even Archangel,
where I was Vice-Consul twenty-three years
ago, was a lot more lively. But I do not com-
plain. The climate is good, the salary tolerable
poll kala, as I learnt to say in Patras."
6 You have travelled, sir," said Norman,
" Oh, one knocks about a bit and sees
things in the Service. Hallo ! "
The last ejaculation was not addressed to
Norman, but to the telephone, whose bell was
" Let him wait," said the Consul.
" Perhaps," hazarded Norman, " if you
are busy this morning I had better tell my
story at once."
" Certainly. But you need not hurry at all.
It's only Dr Sf orelli come for his game of chess.
You know him perhaps ? You have heard of
him only ? . . . Yes, the report was correct; he
is one of the ablest men in Alsander. His
father's name was Cohen, by the way."
" Cohen Sf orelli ? " inquired Norman.
" Just Cohen," said the Consul. " Are you
an Anti-Semite ? "
THE CONSUL 147
" I never thought about it," said Norman,
determined that he would begin his tale at all
costs. " But I am Anti-Alsandrian at present."
" Been trying to sell something ? Hallo,
there! Let him wait. Only Olivarbo. You
know Count Olivarbo? For an Alsandrian, a
man of some ability."
" I hope he has not rung you up on urgent
"Oh, dear no. I am teaching him golf.
Of course, I am a little handicapped " he
glanced pathetically at his limp member
" but the rules and the style, you know, and
" Well, sir, if you don't mind, my business
is rather serious, and I should like to come
straight to the point. And to begin with, I
should like to ask you whether you have
heard of the Alsander Advancement Associa-
" Never. Is it a co-operative store ? "
" No, it purports to be a secret society, for
the object well, I don't know for what
" Of advancing Alsander ? ' !
" I suppose so. But it seems to be really a
conspirators' club to play bad practical jokes
on innocent strangers. I was entrapped by one
of its members."
" This is very interesting, very interesting,
indeed. I may have to take a note of this.
148 THE KING OF ALSANDER
Hallo. Who's that ? My dear Cocasso, I really
can't this afternoon. I am being consulted
on important business. Look up Cassolis, he
plays. My dear sir " this to Norman " you
were entrapped ? "
" I was entrapped. The society sat in state
and pretended to examine me for the position
of King of Alsander."
" Well, well, why not ? I was examined to
become Vice-Consul. We must all be examined,
" Yes, but that was not all. I was stripped
and mauled about by a fool who pretended
to be a doctor."
" Stripped ? Dear me ! Stripped naked ? "
" Yes, but worse was in store for me.
Because I demanded an apology for their non-
sense, I was beaten."
" Beaten ? Dear me ! Beaten with a stick ?
Gracious heavens! Very extraordinary! I
must make a note of that. And what would
you like me to do ? v
" Why, what do you usually do when a
British subject is stripped and beaten by a
lot of dirty Dagoes ? "
" I do not remember such an occurrence;
so I have no precedent for dealing with this
case. British subjects do not usually expose
themselves, you see, to such odd adventures."
" Do understand that it is serious, sir,"
pursued Norman, whose fury had been gra-
THE CONSUL 149
dually mounting in face of this official apathy.
" What's the good of being an Englishman
if one can't travel unmolested? What's the
good of all those Dreadnoughts? What are
they wasting coal in the North Sea for ? Why
don't they come here ? ' !
" I must remind you," said the Consul,
severely, " that you have no passport. I
cannot possibly send for the Fleet if you have
no passport. For all I know you might be
" Do I look it? " cried Norman, in dismay.
" Perhaps there are light-haired Siamese
mountaineers who have learnt English from
Indian friends. c Quien Sabe ? ' as we said at
44 It is a shame, sir you are fooling me ! "
Norman's temper had quite gone.
" Have you only just found that out?"
said the Consul, his eyes twinkling.
" I shall write to the Times ," cried Norman,
rising from his chair to leave.
" My brother," said the Consul, with a
smile, " edits the correspondence columns
of that august journal. Of course, he will print
your letter. But he will also print " here the
Consul rose and his tone grew severer still
" a note to say that I treated you with all
civility although you had no passport and no
letter of introduction, and that you deceived me
to iny certain knowledge by telling half-truths. ' '
150 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" Half-truths ! " exclaimed Norman.
" What about the jewelled buckle that was
presented to you by the society ? "
4 Why, I had forgotten about it."
" And a much more serious matter what
about the injunction to silence which was laid
on you by the President ? "
" You did not let me finish my story. What do
you know about the jewelled buckle ? How do
you know there was an injunction to silence ? ''
" That injunction to silence you had better
have obeyed, sir. However, you may rely
on my discretion. If you insist on demanding
reparation, I am bound to state your case
before higher authorities, but I warn you you
will get none, and you will endanger your
life and perhaps mine. The present made to
you was an ample reparation for your tem-
porary inconvenience. I will give you a few
minutes to consider the matter."
Norman sat down, bewildered. Before he
could think of anything the telephone bell
" Come in," called the Consul. Norman rose
politely as the newcomer entered.
" Mr Norman Price. Signor Arnolfo," said
the Consul, introducing them.
Norman was about to shake hands, but his
hand fell. Signor Arnolfo, a young man in the
national costume, was the handsome President
CONTAINS THE PRESIDENT'S TALE
AND A DEBATE ON THE ADVANTAGES
THERE was a fine contrast between the two
boys as they stood confronting each other.
They were both young, handsome, beardless.
But Norman was square, strong jawed, with
a hint of the workman about him; his hair
almost silver, his blue eyes and fair com-
plexion as British as could be. There was
little to suggest anything more interesting than
the handsome athlete about him save a fine,
curious expression of the mouth, a bold fore-
head, and perhaps an exceptional regularity
and symmetry of the features.
Arnolfo was in complete contrast: his whole
body, though not well set off by the gorgeous
but loose costume, seemed curiously slim and
supple: his smooth, dark face had the spiritual
beauty of the artist. No lack of determination
in it, however, bijt the power was in the eyes
rather than the chin, which was as softly
rounded as a woman's. Of these eyes we can
say but little; they were large dark eyes, but
no poet can sing or painters paint the charms
152 THE KING OF ALSANDER
of the soul's windows. Even more beautiful
was the mouth, on which hovered a smile. But
though in the eyes of Arnolfo there shone a
humorous sympathy, though his smile faded
with obvious disappointment when Norman
drew back his hand, Norman in his fury saw
nothing but an insolent boy who had outraged
him bitterly. Scorning with a flash of chivalry
to use his fist on so frail a person, he neverthe-
less could not help administering to Arnolfo
there and then a ringing smack on the cheek.
" How dare you, sir, commit an outrage on
one of my friends in my presence ? " The
Consul's voice rang out severe and incisive.
" One of your friends ! " cried Norman,
almost hysterical with wrath. " What business
has a British Consul with friends who outrage
British subjects? I'd give you one, too," he
added, savagely, " if it wasn't for your ..."
"It is most impolite of you, sir," said the
Consul, interrupting him and leaning across
his desk, " to make any reference to the
unfortunate state of my arm, due as it is, and
as I have already hinted, to excessive zeal
in the public service. Also, I may inform
you, that you are quite welcome to go for me
if you like. Your behaviour is uniformly gross.
As for my infirmity, take that ! "
r And he dealt Norman across his desk a
blow with the supposed withered arm which
sent him reeling against the wall. Norman
THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 153
was about to reply to this onslaught in kind
when Arnolfo interposed himself between
them, his cheek still red from the blow.
" Remember," he said to the Consul, " he
cannot understand and he has had a great deal
to endure. I would think less of him if he had
not hit me. Sir, I accept your blow. Will you
cry quits with me and be friends ? '
" You accept my blow indeed, you coward !
I have given you a very good clout on the
head. Why don't you challenge me to a duel
like a man ? Surely that is the custom every-
where outside England ? "
" I will make you any reparation you like,
but I will not fight you. Strange as it may seem,
I hope that some day you may become my
" Friend, indeed ! You seem to credit me
with outrageous generosity. If you are too
frightened to fight, you must at least let me
in my turn order you a sound thrashing.
Then I can meet you on equal terms."
" Believe me, Signor Norman, I would do
that for your friendship," said Arnolfo, and,
turning to the Consul, he added, " Will you
not leave me with this Englishman a minute ?"
" I entreat you, Signor Arnolfo, you should
not trust yourself to such a man. He is rude,
unmannerly, and dangerous, and not at all
likely to appreciate the refinement of your
154 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" I entreat you, do what I ask," said the
young man, and as the Consul still seemed
reluctant, he added in a whisper, " I command
you." Upon this the Consul, bowing to
Arnolf o, left them alone.
" Now, Signor Norman," began Arnolf o,
" try and put aside for a moment your
righteous and natural indignation. I have
come on purpose to see you. I hastened here
as soon as I was informed of your arrival. I
want you to forgive me. I want you to be my
friend. But, most of all, I want you to believe
me to be sincere."
" How are you going to prove your sin-
cerity to me this time ? " inquired Norman.
" By more subtle torture than beating or by
downright murder? You and your friends
have inflicted on me the most shameful de-
gradation, and now you implore forgiveness
and talk of sincerity. Are you, is this city, is
the whole world, mad ? Why should you want
to talk to me about sincerity ? Would it not
be more to the point to discuss the figure of my
damages ? ' !
" Never be ashamed of your vulgarity, Mr
Price," said the young man, without a trace
of sarcasm in his gentle voice. " It gives you
just that vitality which I have not got. It is
exactly the absence of vulgarity from my
character that makes me unfit to rule this
THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 155
" You seem to have no mean opinion of
lyourself. I know you only as a shopkeeper and
las a conspirator. I agree with you that you
lare unfit to rule even this kingdom. Take at
lleast the trouble to inform me who you are."
* Will you let me tell my story ? "
;< I have no interest in your story. But
Ion condition that you have no further designs
I against me, I will listen to your narrative,
[provided it is short."
" Sir ! " exclaimed Arnolfo, with a flash of
i passionate anger in his beautiful dark eyes,
the genuineness of which not even Norman
could doubt, but always speaking in the same
gentle tone, " I have had enough of your
British and barbarous sulkiness. I am the
proudest man in Alsander, and I have let
you strike me in the face. But I will not let
you insult me further. Sit in that chair and
listen to what I have to tell you. Remember
now as then, here, as in the secret room of the
conspirators, you are utterly in my power."
Norman, curiously stilled by these words,
sank into the great armchair in silence. The
black walls, the tortured pictures, the incense
fragrance of the strange room had the
Consul journeyed to China also ? hypnotized
his will. He felt tired and careless. He took
almost a pleasure in obeying the elegant and
frail young man, whose voice was as low as the
music of distant waves.
156 THE KING OF ALSANDER
," I," began Arnolfo, " am a nobleman of
Alsander, to which I returned about a year
ago, after an absence of many years in many
civilized lands, especially in Ulmreich. My
father is virtual ruler of the Court of the
orphan Princess lanthe, who (presuming that
the present occupant of the throne dies in-
curably insane and childless) should one day
be Queen of Alsander. My father, the Duke
Arnolfo, as any peasant boy will tell you, is
the guardian of the Princess. It was his plan
that the Princess should be educated in Ulm-
reich, among a sober and wise people, where
every facility would be obtainable to cultivate
her mind and refine her intelligence. I will
confess to you that it was his dream to seat a
noble and wise woman on the throne of
Alsander, even, if necessary, before the death,
or at all events before the natural death, of
King Andrea. Well he knows the miserable
state of this little kingdom under the idle,
foolish and cunning rule of old Count Vorza,
and many a time he has only been restrained
from riding into Alsander at the head of a
handful of retainers and wresting the regency
from Vorza by the thought of his young
charge whose majority he, an unfortunate
exile, has devoutly awaited.
" But, alas ! nothing is likely to come of all
his dreams. You may have heard flimsy
rumours here to the effect that Princess lanthe
THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 157
is as mad as her cousin. It is not quite true
that she is mad. She is stubborn and un-
reasonable, and she is almost stupid. She
grasps nothing, despite the most careful
education that a woman could possibly
receive. She has fits of piety and fits of
melancholy. If that were all, married to a
good husband, she might do passably well;
but she has one supreme defect which makes
her impossible as a queen. She is so ugly that
it would be hard to find a man who would not
be ashamed to be even so much as styled her
husband, though the bribe were a crown.
" Carefully guarded as our little Court is,
some rumours of the truth have come to
Alsander, and at present Vorza seems to the
popular estimation to be likely to go on ruling
for ever. After all, the people are not unhappy:
it is so many years since they have enjoyed
the advantages of uncorrupt and energetic
government they do not know that they are
missing anything. But my father and I love
Alsander with a burning passion; we dreamt
of Florence, of Athens, of Venice, of the great
deeds that have been performed by little
States; and night after night we used to dis-
cuss what could be done with Alsander. We
considered a republic, but a republic, even
a small one, needs a dictator to tide over its
growing pains and also a standard of educa-
tion, which Alsandrians by no means possess.
158 THE KING OF ALSANDER
As for me, I knew myself to be incapable of
governing Alsander alone, even had it been
possible for me to acquire the supreme power
by my father's influence."
(Norman, who had begun to listen with
interest to the young man, and who had
thought that he was getting at the truth at
last, noted in his mind the weakness of the
last remark coming from so self-confident a
young man. However, he did not interrupt, and
Arnolfo went on.)
" It was decided finally that I should jour-
ney alone to Alsander, spy out the land, and
attempt to form a conspiracy. It was a project
not without danger for myself. Vorza knows
that the Court of Princess lanthe is against
him; my father warned me almost with tears
against his treachery, and I could hardly
persuade him to let me go. But once arrived
in Alsander I put on so brave an outward show,
played with such gaiety the part of an elegant
young man bent on nothing but pleasure, that
the suspicions of that crafty old fox were
lulled with comparative ease. Cunning men
seldom penetrate the cunning of others,
especially the cunning of such others as have
naturally no cunning in their nature, but are
only playing a cunning part.
" In the meanwhile I made firm and loyal
friends of all the really able or notable men
in Alsander, to whom I carried letters of re-
THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 159
commendation from my father. I found them
surprisingly ready and willing to plot with
me some change of government but what
change? I had deliberated long and in vain
with several excellent people, when one day
I was taken aside by Dr Sforelli, the King's
physician, the very doctor to whose searching
examination you so strongly objected the
other day. He told me that there was a plot
in the plot which now he would reveal. c Your
father,' he said, c has partly deceived you. We
are not groping in the dark; we have a plan
already formed, a plan fantastic and wild,
but still a plan; and we have cherished that
plan for years. It was necessary that we
should be assured of your discretion and
ability before inaugurating our conspiracy;
yet we postponed our action in order to
await your intelligent co-operation, and,
above all, in order to fulfil your father's
dearest wish, which was that you should in
person preside over the work of the regenera-
tion of Alsander. Our plot is based on a very
startling and curious fact, which is this that
practically from and including the day of his
coronation not a soul in Alsander, not even
Vorza, who is afraid of lunatics has set eyes
on King Andrea.'
ic I expressed my astonishment.
4 c This extraordinary state of affairs,
though based originally on pure chance, is by
160 THE KING OP ALSANDER
no means accidental/ explained Sforelli, con-
tinuing. * It was all arranged between your
father and myself years ago. It had been
actually necessary to seclude the King for a
time, and your father, seized by a sudden and
wonderful inspiration, gave me the word to
convert the temporary seclusion into a per-
" c That is an extraordinary state of af-
fairs,' I remarked, ' but I do not see how it
will help in the regeneration of Alsander.'
" ' Think ! ' said the Doctor, with his queer
Jewish smile, and then the whole scheme
dawned on me."
" Ah," said Norman, who had forgotten all
his animosity in his interest in this amazing
tale. " That was a superb idea. Of course, if
no one has ever seen the King, you can substi-
tute anyone you like and pretend the madness
has been cured, without any revolution,
bloodshed or fuss."
" Precisely, sir; but not quite anyone we
like. Anyone outside Alsander. Anyone the
people do not know. Anyone who is worth
substituting. We had to find a ruler, and we
set seriously about the task of discovering
one. The Doctor had sent friends of his as
emissaries to every land, like the Oriental
Kings who desired husbands for their daugh-
ters and heirs for their crowns, to find a man
fit to rule the kingdom. But our emissaries
THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 161
had a more difficult task than those of the
Oriental potentates. They had first of all
to find a man suitable and though all that
is needed, after all, is a certain amount of
honesty, energy and intelligence, for it's not so
hard to manage a little State like ours, yet we
soon discovered that most honest, intelligent
and energetic men were, unfortunately for our
purpose, already installed in worldly positions
so enviable that they were not likely to leave
them for a chance of ruling a miserable country
and an off-chance of being killed. Besides, the
prospective candidates for royalty could not
be trusted with the secret. The honest men
might come to think it consistent with
their honesty to betray the scheme. The
proposed King would have to be tempted to
Alsander, and, once there, most cautiously
treated. And the emissaries the Doctor could
send were very few, and poor.
" There was only one of them who was
sanguine of success. He was an old man, an
English poet. ..."
" Ah ! " interjaculated Norman.
" ... He had lived for many years, appa-
rently without means of subsistence, in a bro-
ken attic, where he said he was composing a
great Ode to the Sun. Sforelli, it seems, knew
the old man well, arid often declared to in-
credulous company that the supposed old
imbecile was the most intelligent man in
162 THE KING OF ALSANDER
Alsander and perhaps in England. The Old
Poet, as I said, swore he would succeed."
" Ah ! " said Norman, " he has failed ! "
" He has not failed," said Arnolfo, rising
and laying his hands on Norman's shoulder.
" He found you selling biscuits in an English
village, and he swears that his feet were pulled
to the village against his will at least seven
miles on a hot summer afternoon, and all by
the power of the Jinn ! And now, though we
feigned to reject you yesterday, you are the
man we are going to make Bang of Alsander.
And if we have to torture you into acceptance,
King of Alsander you shall be."
Gently pronouncing the strange threat, the
boy stood over Norman and looked down
into his face and smiled. The world went
unreal for Norman at that moment: he won-
dered if he were alive.
" I cannot believe a word of it," Norman
said slowly, after a time. " But, no, I cannot !
If you really wanted a man to rule this country
let us not say a King it sounds too foolish
you would not choose an English grocer,
examine his flesh as though he were a prize
pig, thrash him before the eyes of his future
subjects, and drive him out like a dog ? "
" It was really necessary to see the phy-
sique of the man who is to found a dynasty.
I fear, though, the Doctor took his duties him-
self too seriously. I fear, too, the whimsicality
THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 163
of the situation got hold of us: we were in-
clined to make the most of it. It is not every
day one examines a man for the post of King.
And as for the rest we had to frighten you
into secrecy, and if possible into a belief if not
of our sincerity at least of our power. We had
to be able to command your silence, and it
was obvious you were not ready to believe our
" Then show me your good faith ! " rejoined
Norman. " Surely I have a right to demand
that ? I only claim the just equivalent that
I should deal with you as you dealt with me."
'" Ah, you do not know," said Arnolfo,
paling, " what you ask of me. On the day I
make you King you may do with me what
you will I promise you. You will rule me
then; but I could not accept the dishonour
from you now. If you think me a coward I
am a coward, but I can overcome my cowar-
dice. That is not my reason," the boy went
on, holding out his hands to Norman with a
wan smile. " There take my hands tor-
ment me as you will; but not till the day you
are crowned in the Cathedral of Alsander shall
you have your full revenge."
Norman rose and took the delicate hand,
and shook hands with a smile. " I cannot help
it,'' he said. " I do not care if you want to
make me your jest again, or if you want to kill
me, but I am yours to command. I can even
164 THE KING OF ALSANDER
forgive you. But as for your plan it is plainly
" I think I do not care if it is, so long as I
have your friendship," said Arnolfo, with
strange warmth. " However, I admit there
are many difficulties and many dangers in
our plot, but what are those that strike you
specially ? "
" Do I look like an Alsandrian, first of all !
Or must I be made up to look like one ? "
" Heavens, we will not stoop to disguise.
Besides, I have a touch of the artist, sir, in
my composition, and never would I have
your features altered, your colour changed, or
a hair of your head displaced. In any case,
the Royal Family were always fair. Kradenda
was a Viking. Remember, also, you have only
to deceive the ignorant mob. All the intelli-
gent men of Alsander are in the plot."
" But I have been here for weeks ! " ob-
jected Norman. " Every one knows me as the
" You have been playing Haroun Al Rashid,
and spending the first days of your return to
Alsander spying out the land. It is a very
pretty story, and will greatly enhance your
popularity. Besides, the Old Poet instructed
you to weave a mystery round your move-
ments, and I learn from a sure source that you
" Then all this they tell me," gasped Nor-
THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 165
man, " that the King was sent abroad to be
cured was got up on purpose for the plot ? v
" Of course, and the announcement that his
return and his cure are expected. Not a detail
has been forgotten by Sforelli. There were
guards at the palace, a closed carriage, a special
" And the Consul ? " gasped Norman.
"The Consul is an agent of the British
Government, and the British Government,
tired of wanting a strong Turkey, happens at
this moment to want a strong Alsander."
" Vorza is a fool," said the young man, but
with less conviction than usual.
" And the King himself. What shall we
do with him ? " pursued Norman.
; * What of him ? One of the guards knows
of a little tap invented by the Japanese, as
simple as the Jiu-jitsu trick with which I felled
you in the shop the other day. The King really
is the last person to be considered."
" But, really, if you want me to have any-
thing to do with it," cried Norman, in horror,
" I cannot touch murder."
" Not murder, but removal. What use is
the poor devil's life to him or to the world ? ''
So saying, Arnolfo sat down in the armchair
facing his interlocutor and eyed him with
" I am not an Alsandrian. In England we
166 THE KING OF ALSANDER
view these things differently," said Norman,
pompously, shocked that his gentle companion
should be capable of designing such an atro-
cious outrage. But Arnolfo answered unper-
" In England I believe on one occasion you
gave a King a mock trial and then beheaded
him under circumstances of inconceivable
barbarity. Ah! you're an Englishman, and
mad like all of them, as mad as Andrea.
Come, I love argument; let's have it out. One
life, one rotten, miserable life to buy the
happiness of a country, and you won't spend
it. You call it principle. When you go to war,
what do you care for life ? You are not reli-
gious in the matter. It's just that fetish you
call law. I did not ask you to kill the imbecile
yourself; it will be done quietly."
" I will have nothing to do with any filthy,
cold-blooded murder. It isn't fetish : it's simply
because I won't."
" And if we deal with you instead of with
him ? "
' Try. I do not like your cynicism."
" I am sorry. But it is unreason on your
part, or else sheer cowardice. By what code
of ethics in the world do you justify yourself ?
You are just frightened to do something that
w r ould make your conscience uncomfortable.
On what do you base your morality ? ' !
" On feeling."
THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 167
" Would your feelings let you kill a man
who was just going to kill some one
else ? "
" Certainly. 1 '
" Then why not a man whose existence
does harm to others ? ' !
" Others might think my existence did
harm to them."
" But a life that is worthless to itself ? "
" May not the poor fool's life be happier
than yours or mine ? " said Norman, who was
always fond of abstract argument and apt to
grow eloquent in the realm of ideas. " He lives
with his ideal. His cobwebbed, cracked-plaster
room is for him a most elegant palace; he sees
the phantom courtiers all day long; they bring
him presents of fruits and flowers and spices
and gold. He is for himself the great Emperor
of the World, for all we know."
" Then you will not justify a political
assassination? ' !
" No. It's not so easy as you think, nor are
my reasons so trumpery, Arnolfo for you're
as shallow as you are clever. Murder cuts at
the source of all society which war, which is
organized killing, does not. Unorganized kill-
ing means death not to one man here or there
but to society. That is why we English, who
think society a good thing, hate murder. Let
it loose, unpunished, and if but twenty people
are killed the law unheeding, it's worse for
168 THE KING OF ALSANDER
society than if twenty thousand perish in war
or plague. I will not touch it."
" Your reasoning is powerful, Norman, but
it's not your reason that influences your
action. Your act is, as you said before, in ac-
cordance with your feelings. I might combat
your reason, but I cannot change your con-
victions. What can we do ? "
" Well, it's not so terribly urgent to get rid
" What can possibly be done with him ? "
" Why, send him to a lunatic asylum, of
4 What a ghastly piece of perverted com-
mon sense. 0, you Englishmen; you have never
realized that the French Revolution has oc-
curred. You are still a hundred years behind the
Continent. But I am Alsandrian, my friend,
I am Southern; I have all the Southern
" And some of the Southern charm," added
Norman. Though he had recovered under the
stress of the ethical argument from the
hypnotic fascination to which he had suc-
cumbed, he began to be not so sure that he
did not like this strange and gracious person.
" But none of the Southern faithlessness,"
Arnolfo rejoined. " Trust me, Norman. Trust
me and I will be faithful to you to death. I
we all of us need you so desperately. This
about the murder was only nonsense to hear
THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 169
what you had to say, though I'm afraid the
good Sforelli suggested it in earnest. There
is good work, man's work, an Englishman's
work to be done here. Once the fantastic stuff
the mummery is over, you may achieve
" I shall become a thief," said Norman. " Do
you want to argue that ? ' :
c You are right to remember it. That re-
pugnance you must sacrifice: you are going
to seize an all but worthless property and make
it fine land for corn and olive."
" Yet what I said of murder applies to
theft: I am helping to cut at the basis of
" But to found a new one. Come, in this
objection you will not persist. You have not
the same emotion, you do not really mind."
" Or, rather, you wake in me such emotions
such schoolboy emotions that I cannot
control them. It's a game but it's worth play-
ing. I don't care what awaits me discovery
disaster death ! I don't care if you're fooling
me. I follow you, Arnolfo. What are your
orders ? "
" Continue to play the part the Poet
assigned to you, that is all. Hint of the
mystery. I will prepare the rest as quickly as
I can. About the King, I will arrange some-
thing to please you. And now, good-bye."
Norman held out his hand, but Arnolfo,
170 THE KING OF ALSANDER
under the stress of subdued emotion, laid his
hands on Norman's shoulders and kissed him.
" A Southern way," he said, half laughing,
half ashamed. " One more thing, remember, I
had almost forgotten," he added, as he
opened the door for Norman. " That is,
beware of women."
A VISIT TO VORZA
" NORMAN, you must be awfully rich."
So the guileless Peronella to him on his
return, breathlessly emerging from the room
to greet him.
" Have you only just found that out ? ' !
said Norman, assuming the slight modest
smile of a man who has been hiding his infinite
" Yes. Why, of course, the buckle you gave
me was very beautiful, but I had no idea. . . .
I put it on this morning and went for a walk
in it, and all the jewellers came running out
of their shops to praise it and ask about it
and offered thousands of francs for it. And,
Norman, I wouldn't sell your buckle for
anything, but if you would get me one of those
lovely big hats the Frenchwoman sells in the
High Street, just to go with it,"
' You are much finer as you are, my lass,
with a kerchief round your head."
" Oh, but do, Norman, dear ! It seems that
buckle of yours is worth enough to buy a new
hat for every girl in Alsander."
Norman was about to surrender when he
suddenly remembered he had rather less
172 THE KING OF ALSANDER
than a napoleon left in the world. " Well, I
am in a foolish fix," thought he. " If I don't
follow up the buckle, I shall be accused of
having stolen it." (He surmised correctly;
Alsandrian cunning was already suspicious of
him.) "And my clothes are dreadful: a mil-
lionaire or Prince, even in disguise, would
not wear shiny blue trousers: a Prince in rags
is all right, but not a Prince in bags. I wish I
had given a hint to that marvellous Arnolfo,
but somehow I expected him to know every-
thing without being told. And perhaps it was
all a dream and he a phantom."
So he shut himself up in his room for the
rest of the day.
" I have important letters to write," he
said, impassively. " You must be content
with the buckle, Peronella. Wait a little while,
and I'll dress yon in gold from head to foot."
He retired, not to write, but to think and
meditate. He had supper in his room, and for
the first time in his life disliked cabbages.
Then he went to bed. As he was falling asleep
he wondered whether he had not been raving
in his mind for the last few days: whether he
was not being fooled: whether he would suc-
ceed, what he would do when a King. There
was plenty to do: the town was very dirty.
An ecstatic vision of having all the drains up
flitted across his mind. Succeeded a vision
of fine mountain roads with cunning wrig-
A VISIT TO VORZA 173
gles, and the royal motor car sliding up
them. Then the vision of a Court ball with
more-than- Oriental splendour. Then the per-
plexing vision of a little fool of a girl, damned
pleasant to see and touch, crying her stupid
However, he slept. He was awakened by a
scrubby postman, who handed him a registered
letter. Norman opened it hastily, and was
delighted to find that it contained English
banknotes for a hundred pounds delighted
but not surprised, for Arnolfo had by now
deadened his sense of wonder. He gave the
postman twopence, and had breakfast in bed
on the strength of his opulence. Indeed he rose
so late that at the bank to which he directed
his footsteps a five-pound note was changed
only with the greatest reluctance, five minutes
before noon, the Alsandrian closing time.
However, after a lot of little sums had been
worked out by a lot of little desks and after
the five-pound note had been bitten, crackled
and held up to the light, and after Norman
had executed a lot of complicated moves
and marked time strenuously in front of
grilled windows and " caisses " (all Con-
tinental banks seem to work on the supposi-
tion that you have come there to pass a for-
gery or rob the till), he was released with a
large number of silver coins bulging in his
174 THE KING OF ALSANDER
He stood for a moment on the threshold
blinking at the sun, his contentment tempered
by annoyance at the reflection that all the
shops were closed and would not be opened
again for another three hours, so that he could
not buy so much as a pocket handkerchief for
his personal adornment, when he heard a
whirring clangorousness, and there appeared
a motor car crawling and puffing along the
ruinous cobbles, followed by a little crowd of
admirers, for a motor was as strange in
Alsander as an aeroplane (shall I add " a year
ago " ?) above Upper Tooting. Norman would
have known that the car was a London taxi
had he ever been to London. The driver,
smartly uniformed, stopped opposite him, and
Arnolfo dressed in his invariable silk and gold
stepped out, and bowed to Norman with a
very ostensible deference. " I hope, Sir," he
said suavely, " you will do me the honour of
stepping into my car and coming to lunch with
me at a little place I know of ? "
" Why, how did you find me here ? " cried
Norman. " You are as bewildering as the
" It's not hard to find a suspicious fellow
like you in a gossipy town like Alsander! v
laughed Arnolfo. " Some other day, more-
over, you shall tell me who the Cheshire cat
was; but jump in now; we have no time
A VISIT TO VORZA 175
" I ought to hesitate," said Norman, but he
stepped in at once.
" We are going to continue playacting on
the lines laid down by the Poet," said Arnolfo,
as soon as they were ensconced in the car and
being jolted softly and slowly over the atro-
cious roads. " But you must forsake the prole-
tariat for the aristocracy, and therefore I am
going to take you round the town after lunch
and dress you up like a Jew on a racecourse.
For your story is to be that you are a rich
English nobleman (any eccentricity will be
swallowed in Alsander if you say you are a
rich English nobleman), but that you find that
you have Alsandrian blood on your mother's
side from the fifteenth century. You see, the
story you must tell at present should be a
suspicious and extraordinary one, as you are
soon going to disavow it when you proclaim
yourself King: nevertheless it ought not to be
so foolish as to be instantly found out."
Arnolfo continued to explain in great detail,
as the car bumped gently on, the exact coat
of arms, the exact relationship, the name of
the Alsandrian family (a cadet of which had
actually disappeared in England in the wars)
and various other minute details.
When the car stopped they descended, and
entered a curious and neat restaurant of
which they seemed to be the only habitues,
for it had only one table: there they had an
176 THE KING OF ALSANDER
excellent meal. Norman would have sworn
it was a private house had not Arnolfo paid
the bill and tipped the waiter. He would
have sworn correctly, for it was. They then
drove to a tailor, a haberdasher, a shoemaker,
a hatter, at all of which places Arnolfo took
the shopman aside and whispered that the
order was for a very distinguished English
nobleman, and should be executed without
delay. Sometimes he would also let drop
as a confidential favour that the nobleman
:c havas sango Alsandra en la venai," or that
" Milord had come to dwell in the country of
his ancestors." The Grand Tour Englishman
of fabulous wealth and high distinction
remained traditional in Alsander, since the
Polytechnic Englishman, neither wealthy,
nor distinguished, nor fabulous, had not yet
arrived; and an Englishman with Alsandrian
blood was a prize for the avaricious.
Norman was ostentatiously deposited at his
garden door by the car, and for the rest of the
day refused to answer any questions, and
remained suggestive, impressive, mysterious
and aloof, to the great discomposure of the
Widow Prasko and her daughter. Cesano came
in (I think by the widow's invitation, who
hoped to inflame the obviously cooling Eng-
lishman with jealousy), but Norman offered
no remonstrance to his taking Peronella for a
walk. (Not that Cesano had much joy of the
A VISIT TO VORZA 177
moonlight: the girl was moody and returned
to cry herself to sleep within the hour.) Our
hero then had to fly before the onset of the
widow, who told him so closely does Al-
sandrian correspond to English idiom that he
owed it to her, positively owed it to her, to
reveal his identity and regularize his position.
" Give me a week," said Norman, shuffling
away from her and feeling more like a grocer
and less like a King every instant.
As he undressed before the tarnished mirror
the marks of the whip, which still stood clear
across his back, seemed to rebuke his conceit;
his dreams, too, were more humble; he dreamt
he was married to the Widow Prasko and kept
a boarding-house at Margate.
The next morning a messenger, who looked
preposterously discreet, brought a letter from
Arnolf o, making an appointment at the British
Consulate, and certain ready-made clothes
which, as a temporary measure, had been
skilfully and swiftly adapted to his form.
Norman at the hour of his appointment
found himself once more ensconced in the
great armchair in the Consul's black-papered
study, listening to Arnolfo. The Consul was
" We have a difficult and dreary task on hand
to-day," Arnolfo began. " I am going to take
you to visit all the important people of Alsan-
der. We will take Sforelli with us in order to
178 THE KING OF ALSANDER
make our movements look suspicious on re-
capitulation. It will be much more natural
for you to become King if you have already
obviously moved in aristocratic circles. Your
few weeks among the people will be readily
credited provided that it is known that you
came afterwards to visit the upper classes as
w^ll. Some of those whom we shall visit are
in the secret: but we have not entrusted the
secret to their wives. Some of them may be
clever enough to guess that you really are
the King; indeed, we are going to spread a
few hints to that effect: it will pave the way
for future demands on the credulity of Al-
sander. Of course (as I have already hinted)
the presence of the Doctor as your companion
will be looked upon as remarkable and invite
the sort of comment we desire.
" Remember, Norman, to be most distin-
guished and at times a little strange. You
are, so to speak, paying official visits incog-
nito. And the last visit we shall pay will be to
Count Vorza. beware of that man: he is a
fool as I said before but he is a clever fool.
Come, let us be going ! ' !
" But surely," exclaimed Norman with a
glance at Arnolfo's magnificent attire, flashing
at the side of his dark frockcoat, " you cannot
call on the best people in that costume ! "
" Can I not ! " replied Arnolfo as they de-
scended the interminable stairs. " There is a
A VISIT TO VORZA 179
tradition in Alsander which it is at once un-
usual, distinguished and meritorious to pre-
serve, that the Alsandrian national costume
is sufficient and full dress for any Alsandrian
or any occasion."
Sf orelli was waiting for them in the car, and
they went motoring round together to the
Papal Legate, the bank manager, nobles,
consuls there was not even a minister in
Alscander and so forth. Norman, chiefly by
| preserving as far as possible a discreet silence,
Idid well, and was complimented by Arnolfo.
"The ladies thought you most distinguished,
my friend," he said. " But you have now the
harder task I told you of. There is the gate of
Vorza's city mansion. Once more, beware!
What men say of the old man is true. The
aged reactionary is as polite as an Italian and
as cunning, as treacherous and as wicked as
Abdul Hamid the Turk. So be careful."
It was a needful warning. The old man,
very picturesque in his velvet skull cap,
received them with great cordiality, and
having expressed his great friendship for all
Englishmen and referred half-a-dozen to a
dozen times to the fact that he had been to
London for three days in his youth, contrived
that his wife, a colourless person, should
take away Arnolfo and Sf orelli to a recess
and show them photographs. He thereby had
a chance of seeing Norman alone, and
180 THE KING OF ALSANDER
extracting as much information from him as
possible without the intervention of his
" I am always so delighted to meet an
Englishman," began the old minister, as soon
as they were both ensconced in comfortable
chairs, " especially as I have been to London
myself. It is true I was there only for a short
time, and that many years ago you see I am
old but I have a vivid memory of it all. I
remember the policemen marvellous! But
we see very few Englishmen here. May I ask
how you came here, or was it just that curi-
osity of Englishmen that always drives them
round the world? But you speak Alsandrian
and between us I have even heard that you
have a touch of the Alsandrian in you ? ' !
"It is the attraction of my blood that
brought me here, undoubtedly. I have a great
interest in my ancestry."
" But you are obviously all English. You
cannot have much Alsandrian blood. Tell me
of what family you are. Between us I know
all the families in Alsander."
Norman endured the most searching scru-
tiny with regard to his ancestry. He made
hardly a mistake. There was little that Vorza
did not know about the old families of Al-
" Really," he said, genially, " your visit is
as interesting as it is delightful. The visit of
A VISIT TO VORZA 181
jan English nobleman to Alsander is not an
[everyday occurrence. Your visit to the com-
Imon people and interest in their daily life
that was most characteristically English of
you. Yes, your visit, sir, is a great surprise and
it coincides with another surprise for us
iAlsandrians. You know events are rare here,
but this will be a great one."
" You mean the cure of the King ? v
" Yes. I don't believe it. Sforelli, you know
one of those Jews, between us just a little
bit too clever ! Wonderful how he picked you
up: I should drop him if I were you, by the
way. And I had always heard that his poor
Majesty was quite, quite mad. I never went to
see. I dislike madmen as much as Jews. Arnolf o
should not have introduced you to Sforelli, but
the boy is so kind to every one ! And I'm sure
the King cannot be quite recovered there
will be something a little wrong. And a relapse
what a tragedy! Of course, I shall be de-
lighted. I am an old man, and (between us)
tired of ruling a thankless country. It would
have been too long to wait for the Princess
to grow up: now she'll be out of it, poor
6 Which Princess ? ' ! interjaculated Nor-
" Don't you know? His Majesty's cousin,
the heir to the throne. She lives with her
mother's family far away in Ulmreich. They
182 THE KING OF ALSANDER
say she is mad also, and there is no holding her.
Old blood, old blood ! She was to have come
here this year to be introduced to Alsander,
but the idea fell through till the possibility of
the King's cure had been established one way
or another. I have not seen her since she was a
girl. She is under the guardianship of the father
of that charming young man, your friend
Arnolfo. I am sorry I shall not be able to see
" Bring her here and marry her to her
cousin," said Norman.
He was quite detached at the time from all
thought of his plot.
" A very good idea. But I don't know,"
replied the old man. " Between us, two mad
people! Would it be good for the future of
Alsander ? "
" You are fond of the country ? " in-
" Passionately. I love its beauty. Between
us, I want it just to remain as it is a lovely
and peaceable place, untouched by the world."
" You don't believe in progress ? v
" Not for Alsander. They want me to repair
the roads. Never, said I. Saving your friend's
presence, I hate automobiles. They would
soon be roaring all over the country and spoil-
ing it absolutely. Our roads were made for
carts and mules: and the people are quite
happy with them. Your friend has one: just as
A VISIT TO VORZA 183
a curiosity, it doesn't matter. Your friend,"
he added in a low voice, " was an infant when
I last saw him before his return to Alsander.
I knew his father years ago. A delightful man,
but of advanced views. Now, Monsieur Arnolf o
has no views at all, but almost anything can
be forgiven him for keeping up the old tradi-
tions of the national costume, and he's a great
acquisition to our little society. Between us,
have you known him long ? ' !
" I ? No. I should very much like to know
more of him. I brought a letter of introduc-
tion to him from a relative in England, who
had met him and his father in Ulmreich. As
you said, he is charming: there is no other
"Is he not? Charming: of course restless,
but not like his father, who couldn't live in
Alsander because it was what he called
reactionary. Oh, if his father, old Arnolfo,
got a chance, he'd run a funicular up the
mountains and build a casino on the beach."
" Well, there's something to be said for
being awake and something to be said for
modernity," observed Norman.
" True, sir, but (between us)," said Vorza,
with a more confidential tone than ever, " I
have been, I admit, only a very short time in
England, three days, in fact; and I am a bit
of a judge, perhaps, in matters of taste and
I didn't see anything in London, among your
184 THE KING OF ALSANDER
latest buildings, at all events, that quite comes
up to our Cathedral or our Castle."
" But your Cathedral and Castle weren't
built by a people fast asleep, but by a people
who had just awakened. If Kradenda had
lived to-day he would have established an
aeroplane service across the mountains.
" Well, well, and would we be happier for
that ? Ah, you're young and you're English,
and I wouldn't think much of you if you
weren't for all things new. At your age I was
the devil ! I may be more foolish now, but
we old men want to think we have grown
c You want to sift the question, Excel-
lency; but that's a long, long matter. Perhaps
happiness is not the best thing in the world.
But here is Arnolfo."
And they took (heir leave.
"Curses!" said Vorza to himself, as he
watched their departure from the window.
" Ten million curses. Is this a surprise return ?
Is it the King? It's about the age. But he
looks too British, too British altogether.
But, then, so did his grandfather. There's
not much madness in his eyes or talk. It
cannot be. He might be cured, but he could not
be intelligent. And that physique it's im-
possible. But there's something up. Why did I
trust Sf orelli ? In the old days I would have
burnt him, gaberdine and all ! Curses on him,
A VISIT TO VORZA 185
at all events, and on me ! How am I to know
whether he is the King or no ? If it's a plot
it may succeed it is so simple. Perbacco !
how simple it is ! Well, we shall see ! "
IN WHICH THE BEETLES CRAWL
But solid beetles crawled about
The chilly hearth and naked floor.
James Thompson, author of the " City of Dreadful
Night/' popularly ascribed to Mr Kipling.
ALL preparations for this most surprising
conspiracy were to be ready, so Arnolfo gave
Norman to understand, on the following
afternoon, and Norman, doubting his senses
and still doubting the seriousness of Arnolfo,
rose early and came to the appointed place,
which was again the British Consulate, before
the appointed time. After a few minutes there
came to greet him, not Arnolfo, but Sforelli,
a gentleman who would have looked heroic
in a burnoose beside the ruins of Palmyra, but
seemed merely intellectual and rather repul-
sive in a morning coat. He handed Norman a
letter sealed with what Norman knew to be
Arnolfo's seal. It ran as follows:
" DEAB NOBMAN,
" Everything is going well. Please put
yourself entirely in the hands of Dr Sforelli,
the bearer of this, who has full instructions
THE BEETLES CRAWL 187
from the Society. I am so busy, I may not see
you again till you are crowned.
Norman, looking at the Palestinian profile
before him, felt that the spring had left the
year. The gay youth, with his wit and plots
and disguises, would make anyone believe or
even do anything. While this worthy? The
transition from Greece eastwards was over-
Yet one could see this swarthy, powerful
person was to be trusted, more to be trusted
than Arnolfo. Norman burst into a flood of
" We shall just walk there," came the
answer to Norman's first batch of inquiries.
" I often go to the palace, as I live quite near,
in the square: I have a dissecting room there:
my wife objects to having corpses in the
" Dissecting ? In Alsander ? "
" Yes," replied the doctor, in hollow tones.
" It was expensive getting corpses in pickle
from Paris. So I advertised in the Centjaro,
the little local paper you may have seen, the
one that hints so broadly that the King of
Alsander is already in the town incognito."
" But with success ? Surely, in such a reli-
gious country . . ."
" There was money offered," continued
188 THE KING OF ALSANDER
Sforelli, dryly. " My door was besieged. I am
not sure I was not responsible for murder,
even for parricide. Some of those whose near
relations were rejected went away in tears."
" Well, Doctor Sforelli, to the point. This
mad central idea you are sure of that no one
has seen the King; but what about the
guards ? "
" The guards are with us."
" But why should they be with us ? r
" They are sensible men, for one thing.
They are very old servants of Arnolfo's, for
" He has never seen the King, you know
" And the other notables ? "
" All the members of the Town Council,
which is the progressive element in Alsander,
are with us. For all that, none of them have
" But has there been no ceremony ? For
instance, was Andrea never crowned? ''
" Yes, but with little pomp. There was
only the Bishop there and myself. He was
crowned in the empty room."
" And the Bishop ? "
" Is fortunately dead. No one lives but
myself who saw that mock coronation and
a small acolyte who is now one of the most
able young men of our party. The people were
THE BEETLES CRAWL 189
kept outside, but I remember they applauded,
none the less. But the only person who was
really impressed was the King himself. It
meant a great deal to him, that shabby
ceremonial ! "
" What has given the King that antique
form of speech ? " pursued Norman.
" Before his mind left him, he had as a boy
read one book that of Makso."
" A ! a great book ! " cried Norman. " There
is real fire in his tales of chivalry."
" And poetry, too," added Sforelli, "of no
inconsiderable merit. Well, you know how
the greatness of Kradenda is ever being sung
therein. And ever since the boy, as he has
heard but little human speech about him,
has had faint echoes of the immortal lan-
guage of Makso trickling through his brain."
" One hardly realized he was so young,"
said Norman, with a sudden pity.
" He is your age," replied Sforelli.
" Is there no hope of cure ? "
" None," said the doctor, decisively. " None
on my professional honour. His delusions
come from mental weakness, not from aber-
ration. I might cure a man who had wandered
from the road of reason, but not one who has
never taken it."
So saying they started for the palace, on
foot as Sforelli advised, to attract less atten-
190 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" You are still determined not to have
Andrea killed ? "inquired Sforelli.
" That I prohibit absolutely," said Norman,
speaking with authority for the first time.
Sforelli bowed with some irony.
" Fortunately," he said, " there is a small
asylum outside the town under my super-
" How are we to get him there ? '* pur-
" I think of drugging him, and then driving
him there myself to-night. It will not be
" I have your word, you intend to do this,
and to do no more than drug him ? ' !
" Although I consider that this humani-
tarian project of yours is fraught with great
danger to our plans, you may trust me," said
Sforelli, quietly, and Norman believed the man
could be trusted for all his antipathetic
ugliness. He inquired:
" And what am I to do while you do this ? "
" I am afraid the safest plan will be for
you to stay alone in the castle overnight
pending my return. It may be rather dis-
agreeable and lonely for you, especially as you
may naturally feel nervous on the eve of our
great coup, but I see nothing else for it. I
must take the King to the asylum myself.
It is not safe that any of our friends should
either take charge of the madman or bear
THE BEETLES CRAWL 191
you company in the castle, for obvious
reasons. I cannot be back much before dawn.
When I return I shall send an official note to
Vorza and explain, by your royal request, that
the young c English nobleman ' who visited
him the other day is none other than the
cured King of Alsander. I shall add that
you have returned to the Palace and desire to
have the news kept secret for the present
except from him and a few other notables.
I shall further explain that you desired to
remain a few days incognito in Alsander
from a natural desire of seeing things as they
" You will send, written in your own hand,
at the same time a command to your well
beloved and trusted servant Count Vorza
to appear at such an hour, and similar inti-
mations (though not in your Royal hand),
together with injunctions to secrecy, will be
sent to other notables of Alsander. This letter
will be sealed by you with the Royal seal of
Alsander, which is in my possession.
" When the time comes you will have to
play your part with the utmost care and
even if you recognize some of the visitors
as being members of the society and fellow
conspirators, do not cease acting for a mo-
ment. I will tell you the story to which you
must hold and to which you must, so to
spoak, mentally refer when in difficulty. I will
192 THE KING OF ALSANDER
tell it you to-morrow morning, when I return,
in the palace, in great detail, so that your
memory will be fresh for the day. But for the
present, so as to get your mind accustomed
to it, note that its outline is roughly this:
You have been cured in England, mind you,
and your mind is almost a blank for every-
thing before that, save that you have vague
reminiscences of Makso's poems, and a father
and a mother. You had an operation tre-
panning. And so forth."
" But it's too unconvincing scientifically.
Scientists are sure to arrive and ask ques-
" Scientifically it will be as correct as a
story by your own Mr Wells, when I have given
you all the details. And I will answer the
scientists myself. Above all, avoid being too
explanatory. Nothing causes suspicion to arise
so much as the volunteering of convincing
Thus conversing they arrived at the palace
gate. It was already dark and not a soul
stirred in the palace square. Two guards
saluted them at the doorway. Norman recog-
nized one with a shudder and one with sur-
prise. One was the flagellator, the other the
overworked clerk from the British Consulate.
Two further guards, rising from their seats on
the inner side of the gate, followed them in
silence across the moonlit garden. The jasmine
THE BEETLES CRAWL 193
was fragrant. The doctor opened a little door.
Norman passed once again into the curious
corridor, and thence into the throne-room. It
was lit by many candles, and was very hot.
Everything was there as on his last visit
plaster cupids, broken divans, singeries, the
old chair of Kradenda, and the madman
looking as unreal as his surroundings a part
of the fantastic picture glimmering in the
dim light. The King, however, though still
robed in ermine and cloth of gold, was without
his crown, and there was one further change.
Everything, except the King, had been
washed. Even by the faint illumination this
was perceptible. The candelabra shone, the
fat thighs of the plaster cherubs were as white
as life; even the remote and secret windows
let through an undimmed sun.
The King startled the silence. " Ho,
thou leech," he cried, " where is my
crown ? ''
" It is being repaired," said Sforelli, with a
bow. " I have brought you back Sir Norman as
" You have been long absent, sir, though
your King was in need of you. What have
you achieved all these long days ? " |
" Sire," said Norman, " I have slain three
dragons, a red, a yellow and a green: and all
with horns upon their tails."
c " But my dragon," said the King, impres-
194 THE KING OF ALSANDER
sively, " you have not slain. And to-night
I must meet my Queen."
' Thy Queen, Sire ? " said SforeUi, in evi-
" Even so."
" That will be impossible unless the en-
chanter is slain."
" Then he must be slain at once," said the
King, with resolution.
" Exactly, and that is why I have brought
this good Knight. But your Majesty must
drink a draught to protect you against
" This last time I will obey you to obtain
deliverance. I am sick of your potions. But
beware; if he is not slain in time for the
arrival of that paragon of the world, my
Queen, I will I will " (the King frowned
and hesitated to find words terrible enough)
" I will cut off all your toes and thread
them in a necklace and hang them round your
neck," he said in triumph.
" Bring the cup," said Sforelli to one of
the guards, who immediately produced a
rose-coloured liquid in a tumbler, which he
handed to the King off a salver with some
ceremony. The King immediately drank it:
the four men waited in silence as a happy
smile began to play over the Royal features
and he sank quietly asleep. The two guards
then stripped him of his state robes and
THE BEETLES CRAWL 195
muffled him up in a great coat, and, followed
by the doctor and Norman, took him out to
the castle gate, where a closed carriage was
waiting, and placed him inside. The doctor
turned to Norman.
" 1 wonder what that was about his
Queen ? It's quite a new delusion and startled
" Some stir of Spring in him, perhaps," said
" Well, it's of little matter. We'll find out
at the asylum. He will be better off there
than here in many ways. It's cleaner, and he
will have more fresh air. He is an interesting
subject. Now, my unfortunate friend, as we
arranged, you must wait in this place, I am
afraid, till I return, which will not not be till
near on dawn, for there is still much to do.
As I said, I am afraid you will be lonely. I think
you had better not show yourself out of this
wing of the castle, and the guards cannot keep
you company as they must stay at the gate.
However, you will find a library, rather tech-
nical, perhaps, in my dissecting room. A
couch has been prepared there, too, and I
have not forgotten tobacco. No," continued
the doctor, in response to a nervous look in
Norman's face, " there is nothing there but
books and implements," and the doctor with
this assurance drove off with his capture.
On the way the lunatic began to recover
196 THE KING OF ALSANDER
from the effects of the drug. He sat in the
carriage, now opening and now shutting an
eye, and once mumbling some words about
his Queen. Finally he went to sleep again.
The doctor had but little parley at the dimi-
nutive asylum, a doll's house of a construc-
tion which he had built, and now managed.
He ran it, indeed, at considerable profit, for
the paying patients, offshoots of the noble
families, considerably outnumbered such pau-
per inmates as he admitted free. He explained
to the trusty guardian the deplorable delusions
of the patient, and ordered certain comforts
to be given him.
" You might also get him shaved," he
The guardian, who was a conspirator also,
thoroughly understood the whole business.
And there we can leave the doctor and return
to Norman, who by no means enjoyed the
situation. He did not find the books in the
dissecting room of much interest. He was
wandering in the throne-room, which looked
more ghastly than ever, now the guards
had extinguished the candles, in the flickering
shadow of the lamp he carried, when he
found several scraps of paper on the throne
itself. They were covered with intricate
designs and meaningless arabesques. There
was a wing, there a face, there a foot, there an
emblem all incoherent and messed round
THE BEETLES CRAWL 197
with wild scratches. The bits of paper had so
fearsome a fascination that it was almost a
relief to Norman to go back to the dissect-
ing room and sit down and try to read a
treatise on skin diseases. But long before he
had mastered the difficult subject Norman was
on foot again, restless and troubled. The win-
dow was barred Andrea had slept here
sometimes. The night was close.
He sighed for the young strong arms that
might have been round his neck. The con-
spiracy seemed already to be enclosing him
in an impenetrable net. As immeasurable
time wore on the fishy eyes of Andrea
He would not sleep inside the bed, a sorry
and comfortless pallet which might have been
He lay down on it, dressed as he was,
flinging off only his collar. Sleep would not
come, save for fitful visions. Rising again,
he saw his face pallid in the looking-glass by
the light of the dingy candle, which flickered
in a gorgeous stand of beaten copper. He blew
the candle out hurriedly, then groped for
marches, and lit it again, and flung himself
once more on to the couch.
A fitful slumber was desceiiding over him,
prelude to sweet sleep, when he heard foot-
steps, with a tapping noise and the sound of
voices. One voice was a man's: there were
198 THE KING OF ALSANDER
two other voices, of women. Norman leapt
from the bed, alert, and listened hard.
" He won't hurt you, Drakina," said one
voice. " He's kissed me many a time, and I
don't know what he might not have done
if Makzelo had not been there."
A confused giggle was all the reply Norman
" Where is he, Malsprita ? " said another
" Hullo," said the voice of the man, appa-
rently called Makzelo. " He seems to have
gone away. The room's empty, that's strange."
" Perhaps he's gone to bed," said a girl.
" He can't have; he never goes to bed as
early as this. We have played with him night
after night. He loves it, doesn't he, Mal-
sprita ? "
"When I do it."
More giggles. Then the voice of Drakina
was heard, saying she was frightened.
" Andrea ! " cried Makzelo.
They all shouted; there was no reply,
" Let's go and look for him in the corri-
dors. How strange ! he was dreadfully excited
about his Queen. He mustn't be disap-
" I'm frightened," said Drakina. " I don't
want to be his Queen."
'" You who wanted so to be in a real
King's arms. What a little coward you are ! "
THE BEETLES CRAWL 199
" But the corridors are so dark. Is he very
dreadful to look at, Malsprita ? ' !
" He is not so ugly as you, club-foot !
There was a shuffling and tapping into the
Norman listened with wonder and disgust.
Not quite realizing the meaning of the con-
versation, he had nevertheless understood
enough to feel like a prisoner whose cell is full
of rats. What nameless revels had these beings
held ? The nocturnal visits of these creatures
were evidently unknown to Dr Sforelli. Here
were three people who knew the King by
sight: if this unexpected difficulty were not
disposed of, the whole plot was ruined. At all
events time must be gained: they must not be
led to imagine the King already gone. What
should he do ? He had a second to deliberate
while they went into the throne-room: but
had made no plan when he heard them outside
" Then he must be in his bedroom," said
the man, and went over to open the door.
* Why, it's locked."
" Perhaps the doctor did it," said the club-
"Let's burst it in!* 3
" I daren't disobey the doctor," said the man.
" That doctor's a devil. Why must he pre-
tend the King's away ? "
200 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" For God's sake don't tell a soul."
"Andrea! Your Queen!' 1
" He must be sound asleep, or drugged,"
said a woman.
" Let's go and look in through the window,"
said the voice which Norman had by now
identified as that of Malsprita.
" We might get a look at him, at all events.
Always my luck; just the night I came."
" Well, we'll do that for you," said the man,
pompously. He led them round outside. The
club-foot girl continued moaning, " I was
born crooked and ugly and crooked and ugly
I shall die, and I might have been happy
just once." And still complaining she passed
out of earshot with the rest. Norman covered
his head with a sheet, and crouched beneath
the window, waiting. He heard the shuffle and
tap coming along the gravel outside.
" Why, the bar's out," said the club-foot
girl, and she poked her hideous head right
through the window. It was a face neither
of man nor woman, nor yet of utter evil, but
rather of incarnate brutishness. It had no
features but a mouth; it was a flat and fleshy
face. In frenzy, Norman rose, emitting a
falsetto shriek extremely piercing and hor-
rible by which he frightened even himself, and
dealt a terrific blow at the head with the great
candlestick. By a surprisingly swift move the
woman, if woman it was, avoided the bar,
THE BEETLES CRAWL 201
receiving the blow on her arm: she uttered a
piercing shriek more ghastly still, and the
three intruders rushed away into darkness.
Losing for the first time in his life all his self-
control, Norman kept on shouting and at the
same time banged the candlestick against a
tin basin, producing a desolating boom. Then
he became quiet, relit the candle, and with a
book in his hand, which he hardly read, now
dozing, now awakening with a start if a leaf
rustled or a mouse ran over the floor, stayed
in his chair till he could endure it no longer
and fled out into the open air.
The doctor on his return as he came with
one of the guards through the entrance gate
discovered Norman in the grey of dawn pacing
the ruined garden and shivering with cold.
He was much troubled when he heard the
story. " I have been vilely negligent, and I
ought to be ashamed of myself for forgetting
the fellow," he said. " He was a sort of nurse
to Andrea. I thought him too stupid and too
frightened of me to do harm, and as he is not
supposed to come here at night I had post-
poned dealing with him till to-day." And
turning to the guard at his side, he bade him
arrest the three persons concerned and keep
them in close custody in the old keep. " Forget
all that unpleasantness now, Sir," he con-
tinued, " and I beg of you to attend to more
serious topics. The letters addressing an invita-
202 THE KING OF ALSANDER
tion to the notable people in the town to come
and felicitate you on your cure are now ready
and waiting for you to sign them. The said
notables should be here this afternoon. You
will receive them here in military uniform."
" And what shall I say to them ? You have
only told me the story of myself. How shall I
greet them ? v
" That, Sir, is for you to decide. We rely on
you: you must rely on yourself.'*
The world was made for Kings :
To him who works and working sings
Come joy and majesty and power
And steadfast love with royal wings 1
THE preliminary interview with the notables
succeeded beyond expectation. No sign of
doubt was displayed anywhere, and the happy
suggestion was made that a re-coronation
should take place a few days later, to coincide
with the great Midsummer feast of San
Vorza, who had rolled up to the meeting
in his superb state coach, was extremely
deferential. Norman detained him after for
a private interview, ostentatiously dismissing
" Alas! " said the King to him, " that so
many years of helplessness have prevented
me from a due appreciation of your untiring
energies in the service of this realm. Be not
afraid that I shall ever forget the old noble
houses of Alsander. In you I know I can put
my trust, and I will begin this auspicious
day by honouring a tried and faithful servant
of my family and the nation."
204 THE KING OF ALSANDER
This said, Norman clapped his hands, and
an attendant entered carrying on a cushion
a collar set with pearls.
" Here are the insignia of the office of
Lord Chamberlain," continued the King,
" which I found in an old safe, tarnished with
age and disuse. This I put round your neck
and make you master of my household. I pray
you now to arrange the procession. I have
made Doctor Sforelli my secretary: consult
with him if you will: he knows all the details.
For the present," continued the King, confi-
dentially, " I have need of Sforellf s services.
For the present," he added in a low voice,
with much insinuation.
Vorza left the presence somewhat mollified
but still suspicious.
After this preliminary interview, following
Sforelli's advice, Norman did not show him-
self abroad till the day of his re-coronation:
and heard like a man imprisoned vague
rumours of the stir outside. On the night of
anticipation the young King for so he shall
be styled in future slept little, and rising in
the first grey of dawn he muffled himself in
a coat and stepped out unseen upon a lofty
balcony to look out upon the waiting crowd.
Down there, in the cold misty break of a day
that promised a relentless noontide sun, up-
turned faces were appealing stupidly for
information to the granite castle walls. Weary
men began to yawn and shuffle, and shifted
the drowsy girls that slept upon their knees.
Some were dozing on stools ; others, seated on
parapets, leant back uncomfortably against
the rusty lamp-posts; others lay carelessly
upon the pavement or on the pedestal of the
statue of Kradenda.
" Truly," thought Norman, " they will be
stiff men to rule, these people of Alsander:
their heads are all the same shape."
The King was to step into his gilded coach
in the company of Vorza and Sforelli: the
guards had already cleared the road with
unprecedented valour, while the amazing
coachman perched himself expectantly upon
the box as if he had been born for the task
and indeed the doctor had even found the
family in which the tradition ran of driving
this curious vehicle. Norman, dressed in
military uniform, at the appointed hour left
the throne-room, and with great solemnity
was handed to his seat by the Lord Cham-
berlain, who then took his place in the Royal
coach. They left the castle yard amid a roar
of enthusiasm, and moved slowly down the
main street of the town towards the Cathedral
square. Such had ever been the processional
route of the Kings of Alsander.
At last the carriage stopped at the grand
porch of the Cathedral. There, after Norman
had been robed in those same overpowering
206 THE KING OF ALSANDER
and sumptuous cloths of state that had been
stripped from the unconscious Andrea, the
ceremony of re-coronation took place. It
proved to be an elaborate function, invented
by an old-time Bishop with a passion for sym-
bolism and an eye for scenic effect. It consisted
of appropriate ritual minutiae, as, for instance,
the re-anointing and replacing of the crown
which it would be tedious to describe in detail.
But the closing scene of the service was superb.
Norman raised himself from his knees, and
turned towards the people, feeling his young
body awkwardly stiff amid the heroic amplours
of his purple robes, and in a few sentences pro-
mised to increase the glory of Alsander, making
no reference to the mad years gone by. Idle
to reproduce those simple sentences, without
the animate vision of that clear voice, and
the humorous, handsome face with its bril-
liant blue eyes; without knowing that most
wonderful of Cathedrals, whose Byzantine
mosaics seemed no less barbarous and splendid
than the aristocracy, expectant beneath,
whose jewels, the hoard of feudal treasure
chests, glimmered and swayed dimly in the
And strange it was how when he made that
Bpeech the words of the boy rang true and
sincere. In the glory of the ceremony
he forgot the shabby and grotesque con-
spiracy: he became for the moment the
King of Alsander: he meant the words he
The afternoon was ushered in by a long pro-
cession of girls and youths: the girls carrying
little pots wherein grew wheat, cornflowers
and poppies. They passed in Indian file before
the Cathedral, and each fair girl that passed
broke her pot against the door, in front of
whose dinted panels soon grew up a little
mountain of sherds, and earth, and fading
flowers and corn. Then they passed down
to the riverside, and the King followed them in
state. There they found themselves face to
face with the young men of Alsander, many
of them in that gorgeous national costume of
which Arnolf o was so fond, who had left them
at the Cathedral door and had run round the
bridge and were already facing them on the
opposite bank. The youths threw off boots
and socks, if they were wearing them, and
coats, if they possessed them: neither did
the girls fear to display their shapely feet:
men and maidens entered the stream, the men
valiantly, the maids demurely, and then,
dipping their hands in the water, they began
splashing each other vigorously across the river.
When all were soaked with water many of
the men swam over, seized a girl and ducked
her in the stream: this was held to be a most
solemn betrothal. For in the meantime the
priests and the Cathedral choir had assembled
208 THE KING OF ALSANDER
on the bridge and young voices began to
raise the old Latin hymn of the Consecration
of the Waters, a hymn older than the Cathe-
dral of Alsander itself, one of the oldest
hymns in the world. Swiftly the tumult was
stilled, and all knelt by the shore.
Raised on a platform behind the priests
stood the tall King: he did not seem to share
the joy of all the others, and while they
knelt he shaded his eyes, but not for prayer,
The first excitement of his adventure had
passed: seeing now all around him in the
clear and truthful sunlight this mock revel
given in his honour and in honour of a he, he
felt a thief and a liar. There was no thrill of
triumph in his heart for his achievement. His
fellow conspirators had taken him into their
farce as one might take a spectator from the
stalls and dress him up for the role of Bang.
In the farce nothing mattered honour or
right or manhood. Now here was reality to
face him: he was a King, and an impostor.
The amazing Arnolf o, whose fantasy and youth
had given some poetry to the crude con-
spiracy, had deserted him. Women, and the
fair woman he had seen in the light of morn-
ing was it a thousand years ago ? were lost
to him for ever. As amid the joyous sunshine
of that first morning when he saw Alsander
rise up above her meadows, when, afraid of
the world's too deadly beauty, he had felt
more lonely than ever in his life before, so now
when he had achieved this marvellous thing,
now that he ruled the ancient, fair and fabled
city, he sank into utter desolation of the soul.
And this time no golden girl would chase the
black phantom of sorrow from his soul.
But as the great final major chords of the
sumptuous old song rolled out above the
river new courage came to him. He could not
go back. He could not justify himself ever at
any time at all. He realized that the plot
had irrevocably succeeded: and that he was a
prisoner for ever. Nevermore would he tramp
the joyful mountains. To no new country could
he direct his steps. To his own country and
his own sweet village nevermore would he
return. Love for women the true, free love of
a boy henceforward he might never feel.
Honest men he might never shake by the hand
again. Severed from friends and the sweet
companions of youth, he must thenceforth
talk with wise or portentous or aged men.
Serious and sad, he looked at the beautiful
city, shining above the shining river. He saw
new visions, thought out new ideas, of a bitter
and Spartan taste for a boy's sugared fancy.
His soul and his conscience, his peace of mind,
his friends, his love, his youth he flung down
as an offering to the city. And like a man, he
swore to work.
L il vino, la luce, la nota che freme
Nei nervi, nel sangue, risveglian 1'ardor.
HAKDLY in the history of Alsander, not when
the first Kradenda laid the foundation-stone
of the Cathedral and all his warriors clashed
their spears, nor yet in the silver age of
Basilandron, when the youthful bands, clothed
curiously, the women in gauze veils and the
men in leopard skins, woke unhallowed revel
beneath those sacred walls, when their trum-
pets blew for the bloodless battle, and the fifes
played a prelude to amorous war, hardly in
her days of victory or days of loveliness had
the old castle square been so clamorous or
splendid as on this night of the Royal feast.
The sun had just set, and the afterglow was
fading from the marble fa9ade of the palace;
the Queen of Night was on her throne; the
bunting-covered trestle tables were prepared
for a great feast which all Alsander was to
attend. The wine stood ready in barrels: the
huge Parisian carver, a master of his art,
bared his bullock arms for the strife; servants
staggered out from the castle kitchen with
dishes; and already the people were beginning
PRINCESS IANTHE 211
to assemble, for they heard the great horn of
summoning blow clear and strong. The old
men hobbled in on sticks, the middle-aged
sniffed the viands, the young men came
joyously along with laughter and the lasses.
Seven thousand voices cried " Amen " to the
Archbishop's meandering Latin grace: and
amid an uproar of delight the King himself lit
the vast bonfire prepared in the midst, the
immemorial bonfire of the feast day, which
was to be now a welcome compensation for
the vanished light and warmth of the sun.
For the day was to end, as it had begun,
with the full glory of mediaeval pageant, and
by unbroken tradition each new-crowned
King had to give a feast to his townfolk to
celebrate his coronation. But this was a
specially noble and glorious ceremony it was
more than a coronation: it was a re-coronation
and Alsander expected that amends would
be made for the inglorious day when, amid a
winter rain, a thin and draggled concourse
of spectators watched the closed carriage
which they were told contained a King that
was no King and a man that was no man.
And now, behold, they had a King indeed,
who looked strangely unlike a convalescent
madman a Bang as young and beautiful
and strong as a woman's heart could wish to
break for a King of perfect utterance and
fine presence whom any loyal gentleman would
212 THE KING OF ALSANDER
be proud to serve. A Bang, moreover, who
had already come and lived among the hum-
blest of his people like a simple stranger.
What more could Alsander desire ?
Happy and blest was the table which
enjoyed the company of one of those who
had known the King during his stay at the
Widow Prasko's. Willing enough were they
all to talk, little Pedro, Father Algio, the old
Widow Prasko herself, and the rest of them,
as fast as they could for eating and drinking
the choicer morsels and wines with which
they were specially plied by their admiring
boon companions. It was wonderful how
many people had known the King intimately
during those few weeks with how many he
had held long and confidential conversation
about the politics of Alsander. It was curious
how not one of them had been deceived an
instant by his story of being an Englishman.
Whoever heard of a foreigner who spoke
Alsandrian ! Of course, he pretended to speak
it badly: how wise and clever and beautiful
he was ! They had heard to-day how he could
speak the language and so forth, and so
Those who had really known the King were
full, too, of the brightest fancies. What
honours and rewards would be showered on
them for the little services they had ren-
dered? One poor, penniless fellow, who had
PRINCESS IANTHE 213
once shown Norman the way, put on the most
ridiculous airs after a few glasses of strong
red wine. He was already enjoying the fruits
of a fine pension, and wandering through the
palace courts in cloth of gold.
Only Peronella sat in absolute silence by
her mother's side. Not a word would she
answer to any question, despite the harsh
rebukes of her expansive parent. She sat and
drank rather much and ate almost nothing.
All those around her affected to understand
her mood and ceased to trouble her with
questions. It was plain the King had broken
her heart. Well, was it not the high tradition
of Royalty to break the hearts of humble
women ? thought the men of Alsander. Could
the King have chosen a lovelier girl ? Doubt-
less the King would see her again and not
desert her quite absolutely for ever. The
flower-like Peronella was made to be a Royal
Mistress. The men of Alsander praised her
beauty, her reticence and her air of sorrow,
which they conceived to be if not genuine at
least most nobly affected, while the women
of Alsander were consumed with the most
passionate jealousy and envy of the poor
girl. But what of Peronella ?
Peronella was a girl with a simple soul, but
the simplest of souls is, after all, according to
the idealists, a more wondrous and complex
tiling than the mechanism of the latest
214 THE KING OF ALSANDER
Dreadnought. A soul, being alive, grows and
changes. Peronella had to-day discovered that
she loved Norman with all the love her soul
could give and only simple folk like her can
give all their souls to love. She had no pre-
occupation with the world save to find therein
a man to love, and she had found Norman.
And now he was gone from her taken far
away. She knew her lover had abandoned her
for ever !
She had become a woman. It was not this
sudden Royalty that made her love the boy
who so few weeks ago had come to her singing
over the mountain height. It was the shock
of it all and the separation. For others
might believe this tale. Others and they
became many as the wine flowed round might
whisper dark whispers, and swear that it was
incredible that this bright northern-faced
boy should be a Kradenda, and hint of a
cunning and tremendous plot. But she alone
of all the uninitiated folk of Alsander knew
with the sure and instinctive knowledge of a
woman for an absolute certainty that the
re-coronation was a farce and that Norman
was no more King of Alsander than she was
Queen. And the sorrow on her face was but
the genuine reflection of the agony of her
soul, but her agony was not for her country's
misfortune but for a lover lost.
But meanwhile the feast was progress-
PRINCESS IANTHE 215
ing, and a clamour arose that made one think
more of Flanders and the north and the gross
banquets of Jordaens than of southern fru-
gality and moderation.
The King, in the dark green uniform of an
Alsandrian Colonel, with Vorza, Sforelli, the
nobles, their ladies, our old friend the British
Consul (in a cocked hat) and his colleagues,
each of whom hoped shortly to acquire the
title of Minister to so energetic a Court, were
seated, together with a few very distinguished
correspondents of great newspapers, who had
been invited to the Royal board by special
request, at a long table under the open gates,
beneath the door of the castle. Arnolfo had
not reappeared. The general conversation
was lively and elegant: but Norman whose
ostensible knowledge of the world had to be
confined to the castle walls, a few books, a
few weeks in Alsander, and a year in a
" home " in England, hardly dared open his
mouth. This need of caution, this forced lying
masquerade, and a longing not only for Peron-
ella, but also for the companionship of the
strange young man who alone seemed to
have the power of turning life into a furious
and careless dream made him so gloomy
that Vorza was very frightened lest in some
uncanny outbreak of revived mania the King
should hurl his plate at the head of his newly-
appointed Lord Chamberlain. Nevertheless,
216 THE KING OF ALSANDER
this sullen reserve which the King displayed
suited the part he had to play (as an interest-
ing example of scientific progress) to perfec-
tion. When, however, at times he woke
up from his pensive and melancholy medita-
tions, he was possessed with a sort of odd
feeling that he must give the newspaper gen-
tlemen some copy, and would talk gravely
of the careful reforms he would make in
the drainage of the city, the paving of the
streets and the training of the militia, or
sigh for his wasted youth with intense pathos,
saying, too, how glad he would be when these
formalities were over and he could tour round
his dominions, " which are, despite a few
weeks' residence in the city itself, as strange
to me, sir," he said, addressing the special
correspondent of the Daily Mail, " as they
are to you." Towards the end of the meal,
he was seized by an idea which comforted
him, and became suddenly so gay that the
doctor trembled for his dignity and, pretend-
ing to be concerned for his still precarious
health, advised him in an audible whisper
not to tire himself by too much lively con-
After the enormous repast was at length
ended, the guests scattered for a digestive
interval preliminary to the splendid dance
which was to end the day. The doctor regaled
some ecstatic Ulmreich medicine men with
PRINCESS IANTHE 217
tales, all in the strictest confidence, of the
surprising operations that had been performed
on the King, while the King walked round
with Vorza, asking the delighted Duke many
questions about the government and still
more about the evening's ceremonial.
tc Of course I rely on you, my Lord Cham-
berlain," he explained, " for all ceremonial
details. Though, alas! you have no experi-
ence in your duties, you have, I feel sure, that
exquisite tact which as the great Court his-
torian Brasaldo says, is the exclusive birthright
of ancient and honourable families."
"Now, I believe there is to be a dance to-
night as soon as the tables have been re-
" The musicians should be here in an
hour's time, your Majesty."
:< They will be good musicians, I hope."
" I believe so, Sire. They are world re-
" Now, my Lord, when the last King was
crowned, as I read once in Brasaldo's history
one of the very few books I have read all
Vorza bowed again, in deference, perhaps,
to such heroic perseverance.
" The last King my father, I mean, whom
I remember but faintly, for I was such a little
boy when the trouble came danced, I believe,
218 THE KING OF ALSANDER
in accordance with traditional custom with
several of the fairest maidens of the town."
Vorza was quite reassured by this token of
the Royal sanity, and bowed again.
" Now, of course, for me all thoughts of
woman's loveliness have no charm: I am too
inexperienced, alas ! What a youth I have had
I have had none, rather. But since the cere-
mony is old and picturesque I should like to
" But, Sire, between me and your Majesty,
you have not had time to learn to dance."
This was unexpected, but Norman rose to
" You know little of England and modern
curative establishments," he said. " The
regime of the whip and straight waistcoat is
over, thank God, or you would not have
the pleasure of my company to-night. Three
days' sojourn is not quite enough for that
wonderful country, my lord."
Vorza smiled, but sinister thoughts passed
through his heart.
" It must have been a marvellous place
indeed, Sire, this home to which the good
luck of Alsander sent you. But will you never
tell the secret of its locality ? For it would be
only right, between me and your Ma j esty , to hon-
our the wise director with a national tribute."
"It is not his desire," said Norman,
briefly. " But with regard to this dance to-
PRINCESS IANTHE 219
night, I want to know my people. I propose
that the dance should be promiscuous, and I
will join it myself."
" That is quite in accordance with the best
traditions of Alsander, your Majesty," said
Vorza, and he promised to make the an-
nouncement in due form.
Vorza left him, and for a moment he stood
alone and looked round on the scene of revel,
and at that moment the uproar of gross
feeders and drinkers seemed to pause a
second, drowned in the vast fullness of the
jasmine night. Then the musicians began
from their bower among the shadowy plane
trees glorious musicians, and so glorious a
music that not a man would dare to dance
to it, for all that the orders were that none
should wait for the Bang. All listened im-
mobile: only the Japanese lights and those
further lights the stars dared to start off
dancing to such a tune. All the new power
and subtlety of modern music seemed to
have blended with the grand traditions of
olden days to make this lovely melody: yet
the melody was a waltz a waltz-tune that
the simplest could understand and that set
the body dancing. Another instant and the
spell broke: the music became human and the
whole square which the carpenters had turned
into a vast dancing floor, was alive with
couples, and seemed itself to turn.
220 THE KING OF ALSANDER
And the great sense of the unreality of the
world again took possession of Norman. It
seemed to him that he was a King indeed
but a true King, the King in a fairy story, and
might do what he will. If he was to pla,y this
splendid part, he would not play as a modern
King a tired, frock-coated slave of weari-
some Ministers. He would be a King of Yvetot,
of Atlantis, of the Indian Isles. He would
dance with Peronella was it not the old
custom that he should dance with the fairest
of his subjects? Would he not be the more
beloved for his boldness ? If he were not,
what matter ? The girl should be his mistress
that night; to his great golden room he would
lead her, and for one night he would celebrate
Aphrodite. Was it not for this that she had
been sent by destiny to meet him swinging
her pails beside the spring on that immortal
morning ? Was it not for this one night that he
had played the supremest farce that ever a
man played ?
He started to find her, motioning away
those that would accompany him. He soon
caught sight of her, a little way off seated
alone on a bench, as though she awaited him,
and looking towards him with her eyes
shining in the light of the lamp. His heart
beat, and he trembled as he had never done
through all his play-acting. He knew still that
to steal a maiden's honour was a greater enter-
PRINCESS IANTHE 221
prise than to ravish a throne. He knew he
had but one step further to take toward the
girl, who sat there trembling with love to
receive him. His foot was light on the ground
to take that step for what to a King is all
the world ?
Yet at that moment a hand was laid on his
arm to arrest him. He looked round, and saw
Arnolfo. The boy was clothed as ever in Al-
sandrian dress but of a darker hue: he was
cloaked, and the silver buckles of his belt
gleamed beneath the rich and sombre mantle.
In this raiment, at such an hour, he looked
paler than the moon, and strangely moved,
yet resolute as death.
Norman knew why Arnolfo had laid the
hand on his arm: he saw the will and deter-
mination on the boy's face: he knew that his
scheme was known, and that it was to be frus-
trated. He swung round on his heel. " Leave
me ! " he said with passion, but his voice was
not that of a King who rules the world, but of
an angry boy.
44 Did I not tell you to keep from women,
my King," pursued Arnolfo. 44 Surely I am
only just in time."
"It is too late ! Your dramatic interven-
tions are useless. I go where I please. You
should not have left me in the lurch all these
days if you wished to remain my mentor. I
am master now. Leave me: we are not un-
222 THE KING OF ALSANDER
observed: you are making me ridiculous before
" My King, I implore you as a friend, come
away with me," said Arnolfo in a voice
" A friend are you ? You have made a fool
of me for ever. I have got to play-act all my
life. You have stolen from me my love, my
liberty and my youth. You have left me alone
to carry through the most perilous portion
of this mad enterprise, and now, when I want
to rescue a few moments of joy from the ruin
of my life, you say, * Friend ! Friend ! ' Let me
go, I tell you ! Let me enjoy the glory of exist-
ence for one hour before you shut me in your
dismal prison of lies for ever ! "
And Norman pointed to the grim, dark,
towering walls of the palace of Kradenda.
But Arnolfo, with that magic power that
never failed to influence Norman to influence
him so deeply that it seemed able at times to
sap his very manhood and honour for,
after all, he had suffered the utmost degrada-
tion at this boy's command Arnolfo had
already drawn Norman away and Norman
was following him, why, he knew not, to-
wards the palace.
" Come, Norman," said Arnolfo, in that
low and honeyed voice of his, "a friend is
better than a lover, as love is better .than
PRINCESS IANTHE 223
" For Kings ! " exclaimed Norman, but
whether as a question or in bitter acquies-
cence was not certain from the sound of his
" come with me a minute," said Arnolfo,
pretending still to plead and drawing Norman
further and further at each step from Briseis.
" All your happiness may depend on that.
Will you ruin yourself and Alsander for a
pretty face ? Are you going to play tyrant and
drag her from the arms of her lover ? '
u Damnation on duty and on you and all
this farce ! " replied the King, muttering low
as he turned for a last look at the girl who,
still visible, was now standing with bowed
jhead, her arm around a young sapling
land still alone. " Were it not for your fool's
I mummery I might have had that girl in my
arms. Look at her: is she not beautiful enough
for you, my artist? Are not these lips red
enough for the Sultan of the Indies? Where
Is the lover from whose arms I should
drag her? Leave me, Arnolfo. Must I forget
" Give me one half -hour alone in the
palace. After that, you shall be free of my
interference for ever and return to your love if
you so desire. I swear it. But come now. There
is ... danger. Ah, Norman, can you not read
sincerity in the eyes ? "
Involuntarily Norman looked at the boy
224 THE KING OF ALSANDER
and saw in his eyes a light so strange that he
was troubled. The charm of Arnolfo had
already compelled him: but now his very
passion surrendered to it. Without more com-
plaint, he broke with him through the crowd,
which opened to let him pass.
None ventured to attend them. The guards
seemed to Norman to show as much deference
in their salutes to Arnolfo as to himself. They
went alone together to a little room in the
tower, where a lamp was hanging simply to
aid in the general illumination, for the room
was empty and unfurnished.
" Well," said Norman turning on his friend
with some fierceness, " tell me your story."
The boy flushed a little. " There is no story,"
" But you said there was danger in what I
intended to do. Not that I mind, but tell me
what you meant."
" You neither were nor are in any danger."
" Then why, in God's name," cried Norman
" did you bring me here ? "
Arnolfo put a finger to his lips and leant
over the stone window-sill to gaze at the
crowded square. " You ask why I brought you
here, Bang of Alsander," he whispered to
Norman, who stood over him. " Oh, can you
not yourself discover why ? Can you draw no
inspirations from the world around you ? Will
nothing but brutal speech make you under-
PRINCESS IANTHE 225
stand? Cannot music suggest to you the
truth, or the rustle of leaves, or the murmur of
men down there that makes audible the silence
of the stars ? Is there no subtler essence in
nature or your own soul ready to vibrate ?
Has not the Universe a dumb but smiling
mouth to say why I brought you here ? ' !
" Heavens, what weird nonsense you are
talking " said Norman, catching the boy's arm,
" Can you not speak straight ? Or what new
web of perplexity are you weaving for my de-
struction ? ' !
" Leave me," said the boy with a gasp, as
though Norman's clutch on his arm had hurt
him. " Leave me: I will go: you shall never
see me again. Keep your peasant girl, Norman
Price: who shall blame you ? Real kings have
fared far worse."
" I want to know what you meant about
the silence," said Norman looking curiously
into his friend's pale face and expressive eyes.
" And what my peasant girl has got to do with
" How can you stand almost touching me ! "
cried Arnolf o, leaping up from the window and
facing Norman with a sort of indignation.
" How can you put your hand on my arm
and still not know and still be such a fool!
Arid they talk of instinct! I am ashamed
at my failure. Ah, how did I dare bring you
here ? "
226 THE KING OF ALSANDER
And turning again to the window Arnolfo
buried his face in his hands and wept.
" Why, you strange creature, what have
you got to weep f or ? " cried Norman in dismay,
" You trouble me with your strange ways to-
night. I swear if you are unhappy I will do my
best to comfort you; but do speak straight
out, and do above all be a man."
The boy looked up, and through his tears he
smiled, and then through his tears he laughed.
And then he simply laughed very prettily and
held out his right hand.
" Look at my hand a minute," he said.
Norman took the proffered hand and
examined it with great embarrassment and
wonder. " It is a very small hand," he said;
" but I don't see what is the matter with it."
Then at last suspicion flashed across his
mind. " Ah, you don't mean that ! " he cried,
suddenly dropping the hand and starting
" Good God," laughed Arnolfo rather wildly.
" I can't think of any more hints to give you,
barbarian ! Must I strip to the waist ? "
Norman gasped. " If you really are a woman,
Arnolfo," he exclaimed, " I would much
prefer that you did."
Then he stood motionless before her and for
a time the two faced each other without a
word, the King with his hand on the hilt of his
sword, and the woman clasping across her
PRINCESS IANTHE 227
body the great mantle, as though to preserve
even at this hour, the virginity of her disguise.
" I am the Princess lanthe," she said at last,
with a dignity which the travesty could not
" You are a very beautiful woman," re-
joined Norman, bending to kiss her hand.
Then, looking at her with a rather inscrutable
smile which strangely aged his youthful face,
he added: " but I bitterly regret the loss of
The Princess hung her head a little and
seemed almost the boy again. " Is that all you
have to say ? " she murmured, " and yet there
is nothing I would rather you had said than
" It was for Arnolfo I adventured on this
enterprise," pursued the King gravely, " for
his friendship I ruined my life to become a
mummer and a thief. And now the pantomime
continues and there is no Arnolfo."
' But you have lanthe's friendship," cried
the Princess, " as you had Arnolfo's."
He shook his head. " Friendship with a
woman is not a sport for kings."
" But such a friendship as ours," she re-
joined, " cannot be broken by an epigram."
" It is broken," affirmed the King. " The
days of friendship are irrevocably over. And I
have no reason to think, Princess, although
you singled me out to rule your country, and
228 THE KING OF ALSANDER
although I, when I found you a woman, was
stirred with something that was not only
wonder, that the halcyon days are near. And
yet I am speaking to you straight, Princess,
in the English way if you do not think we
shall become more than friends I shall leave
you and Alsander to-night for ever, and see
what fresh adventures await me in the teeming
world. Maybe some other country will greet
me as its King and a princess only a little less
beautiful than you, in a realm a little more
fabulous than Alsander, will offer me her heart
and hand. But I will simply laugh and go back
home to England. One day of kingship has
been enough for me."
" And is that all you have to say to a woman
who has given you a Crown and to a people
who are awaiting their King ? Have you no
fire, no pride ? "
"I have a sense of honour," replied the
King gravely. "For listen to me. You have
given me a crown of gold, and it is a crown of
thorns. You have made me a mock King. I am
already weary, unutterably weary. What care
I for Alsander? Is not a hedgerow in my
native land lovelier than all its cypress trees ?
What care I for ruling save to be the master
of a straight young woman, and lord of a
country farm ? On one condition only will I
consent to endure this foolery one more day,
and that is on condition that vou the
PRINCESS IANTHE 229
heiress of Alsander become rightfully my
Queen, for all that I am an English grocer
boy. I am no fool, Princess, and I may dare
to hope that you will accept this condition,
for I think some such project has been in
your mind all the time, through all this queer
history. But I have a second condition, which
is harder, and that condition is this: that if
you love me, I will be your King. If you love
me with all your heart and soul, as I love you,
and only in that case, then we will rule our
land together. And if not, lanthe, bid farewell
to me to-night for you will never see me
again. The masquerade is over: speak truth
to me at last."
" You are right ! " said the Princess. " Must
we talk like fanciful children and waste words,
we on whom depends the fate of thousands,
we the rulers of Alsander! You have made
your conditions: I accept the first. I will be
your Queen, in name and in deed, if you will.
The Princess lanthe, King of Alsander, has
also a sense of honour. I have made you a false
King I alone can make you a true King, the
consort of the legitimate Princess of Alsander.
I offer to be your Queen."
" But my second condition your love,
Princess lanthe ? "
" What do you mean by love ? Is it my
body you mean by my love ? I owe it to you
if you desire it. It shall be yours I have
230 THE KING OP ALSANDER
promised to be your Queen. Or is it that,
together with my true and loyal friendship
you desire ? That also shall be yours, though
you have rejected it, for all my life long."
" I want your love, your true love, your
deep love, the love of all your soul," said the
King in a low voice, gazing into her brown
" Ah ! that is not mine to command."
" Will it never be mine to command,
lanthe ? Speak truth. If it will never be mine,
I will not be King of Alsander."
" You are almost wooing me," exclaimed
the Princess, laughing a little nervously,
" and I rather wish I were dressed for the part.
But is it not rather fantastic to claim my love
without offering your own? And is it not
rather insolent," she added abruptly, as
though a flash of memory had caused a flash
of rage, "for a man who has given his heart
to a peasant girl to demand the love of a
Princess ? "
" You are insincere in your reproaches,"
replied the King. " You know from the very
sound of my words that I have forgotten all
the women of the world but you. You know I
stand on the threshold of Love's house: but
how do I know if you will ever join me, to
enter side by side ? "
lanthe laid her hands lightly on the King's
shoulder. " You will not win me before you
PRINCESS IANTHE 231
woo, ungallant heart ! " said she. " But if the
day comes when you decide that I am worthy
of your attentions, remember that my love,
like that of fairy Princesses of China or of Ind,
must be won by high achievement. It may be
that I could, like a woman without shame, cry
out this very hour, ' I love you,' were it not that
my heart is lost already, pledged to a passion
which surpasses all love I can feel for man.
My body's love I will gladly give to whoever,
like you, is beautiful and young, my friendship
to whoever, like you, is gentle and wise, but
my soul's love is my love for the Holy City of
Alsander. There is not a court or a garden, not
a stone of the cobbles of Alsander over which
I would not slaughter the lover of my body
or the friend who kept my thoughts if that
would keep these holy streets from pollution
and slavery. I love this country as no one has
ever loved it before, save he who made it, my
forefather, the great Kradenda. Its air is to
me a more pellucid air, its rocks more ancient,
its sea more blue, its flowers more fragrant
than other airs and rocks and seas and flowers.
And if a man would desire to have part of this
deep love and even with a part of it to be
loved as no hero was ever loved in days of
old by the great-bosomed women of the
Greeks, then that man must become part of
Alsander. He must fight, work, strive, for
the glory of the kingdom. He would have his
232 THE KING OF ALSANDER
reward: for I am not a capricious woman but
one whose heart is true, girl as I am.
" But do not answer me now: the minutes
are flying on: your subjects will miss you: we
must go out again into the square. Quick ! I
hear no more the dancers laughing and the
splendid music has ceased sighing among the
stars; they are waiting for their Bang to join
them. Listen ! The Cathedral bells of Alsander
are tolling the midnight hour."
PERONELLA AND THE PRIEST
Creep, and let no more be said.
THE prolonged absence of the King having
given rise to no small anxiety, there was
universal relief at his reappearance, and he
was welcomed with uproarious cheers as he
stepped out of the palace gates, preceded by
the Royal torchbearers. The King regretted
to those of his notable guests whom he chanced
to meet that affairs of State should have de-
manded his attention even on so holiday an
evening. Sf orelli also, by the Royal command,
told Vorza to let it be known quietly that the
King's health would not permit of his dancing
that evening. To counteract the disappoint-
ment of this announcement, the King went
round, with " Arnolfo " in attendance, among
his subjects, conversing kindly with them
and especially with those who were already
his acquaintance. And seeing Peronella
clinging to her mother, the widow, he did
not hesitate, but went up to the couple,
and after thanking the old lady for the excel-
lent care she had taken of her " Englishman,"
234 THE KING OP ALSANDER
he praised her cooking, especially of beans and
potatoes, and the softness of her linen, and
the charm of her daughter. He then asked
them both to come and pay him a visit in the
course of the week. But not by a look, a sign,
or a glance did he show to Peronella that he
still loved or even that he still wanted her.
In her new wisdom, born of bitterness of
heart, the girl understood that her day was
over, and inwardly she cursed Norman, and
the mysterious young man at his side, who
had so often taken him away from her, and
the day that she was born.
" Ah, Norman," said lanthe, as they left
the group, in her low and gentle tones, " I see
you are playing the game bravely. But you
must play it as if you loved it, for it is a game
for the glory of Alsander if you do not love
Alsander you cannot love its Queen; and if
you do love Alsander, then, perhaps but,
hush ! There is Vorza, dodging us round the
The King beckoned to Vorza, who had just
appeared from behind the pedestal of the
statue of Kradenda, and was walking appa-
rently in meditation. The Duke bowed. " Your
Majesty," he said.
The King felt that an explanation of his
apparently intimate converse with young
Arnolf o was needed.
" Count Vorza," he said, pleasantly, " this
PERONELLA AND THE PRIEST 235
f oung man, for all that he is the most charm-
ng of young men and a friend of yours and
mine, is importunate. It is only my coronation
lay my first evening of reign and he is
already trying to interest me in affairs of
" He is misguided but young," said Vorza,
Tying to catch the King's amiable tone of
" He is misguided and young," echoed the
Sjng. " I have also noted in him a certain
lightiness, eccentricity and weakness of pur-
pose. But it seems he also has ambition."
" Ambition ! ' ! said Vorza, genuinely
startled. " I have known him as the gayest and
most delightful young man in Alsander, but
he is surely not interested in affairs of State ! "
" We have been deceived, Count Vorza.
He is an enthusiast. He hopes to reform us all.
He desires a post in the government."
" Surely he would be out of his element
in serious affairs if your Majesty and the
gracious subject of our conversation will
pardon my saying so ! "
" I do not know, Vorza; I do not know.
We need enthusiasts, we need youth. His
father, however mistaken in his views, is an
able man, and the ability may be inherited.
I should like to give him a place in the govern-
ment but what place? I ask your advice,
my Lord Chamberlain."
236 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" I have no hesitation in giving it, your
Majesty. My poor experience is always at your
service and the service of the country. If any
government post be given to this young man,
it must be the Ministry of Fine Arts a post
which I am sure he would fill with distinction "
" I am entirely of your opinion, Count
Vorza. The appointment shall be gazetted
Upon which the Count withdrew, medita-
tive but not gloomy. If such young fools were
to be the King's favourites, there would be
ample opportunity for him to continue wield-
ing the supreme power in Alsander. For a
moment he forgot his suspicions as he dreamt
the dreams of a man whose ambition age has
sharpened instead of dulled.
But late that night when guests and popu-
lace (as it had been arranged for the sake of the
King's supposed weak health) had dispersed,
Vorza, as he jogged home in his carriage,
and looked back on the events of the day, was
again seized with the conviction that both he
and Alsander had been the victims of a
childish, simple and audacious hoax. He raged
inwardly. Suppose it were found out by some
outsider, and he he, the wise Vorza were
shown to have been miserably fooled by an
English jester and a Jew doctor ? Was young
Arnolfo a plotter, too had he secret instruc-
tions from his old scoundrel of a father ? Ei-
PERONELLA AND THE PRIEST 237
;her, Vorza determined, the hoax must remain
pnexposed or he must expose it. Pacing the
Ijuiet flags of his great hall he passed the hours
Meanwhile the King had formally dismissed
his guests, none of whom were staying in the
pastle, which, despite the efforts of plumbers,
bcullions, chambermaids and upholsterers,
could only just accommodate with decency
the King himself. As he entered the great gate
the guard fell back, and he suddenly dis-
covered with a queer thrill that the boy-
princess had appeared from nowhere in parti-
cular and that they were walking together in
the palace garden, the little ruined garden of
King Basilandron, which at night, now that
the little summer-houses and temples had all
their graceful lines traced out with rows of
fairy lamps, had an air not of decay but rather
of mystery and sweetness, so tangled were its
bowers, so heavy hung the scent of roses in
the air. Norman trembled, feeling the enchant-
ment of the moonlight and all the fear that
comes with the birth of passion ; but he listened
in silence to the silvery accents of the Princess
as she told her tale.
It seems the admirable old Count Arnolfo
wras, as the Princess had described him to
Norman when she pretended to be his son,
sent to Alsander on a patriotic mission. The
real son existed, but had been in America for
238 THE KING OF ALSANDER
many years; the real father was, as the Prin-
cess had depicted him, an ardent patriot, a
man, however, of liberal views. He let the
Princess run fairly wild shocking a good deal
the other little Royal households with whom
they came into contact and giving rise thereby
to the legends of her wildness that had reached
even Alsander. But, naturally enough, even his
liberal and easy mind would not have con-
templated the possibility of his charge roam-
ing Alsander in boy's attire. What old Count
Arnolfo had done, however, was to sanction
the Princess to make a journey incognito (not,
indeed, that such a very unimportant and
impoverished Princess would have been much
disturbed by adventurers) with her trusty
governess, Miss Johnson. Old Arnolfo was
getting too old to wander far from home, but
he felt all the same that the Princess ought tc
have a course of good, healthy eye-opening
travel in the English fashion.
They were to go anywhere they liked except
and the old man warned them like Bluebeard
admonishing his wives except into the king-
dom of Alsander. And of course, like Blue-
beard's wife, lanthe was fired with a resolve
to go. But she did not know how to carry
out the resolve, though she often thought
of simply going and leaving Miss Johnson to
her fate. It was the thought of getting pool
Miss Johnson into trouble that prevented hex
PERONELLA AND THE PRIEST 239
from carrying out this plan rather than any
fear of the difficulties of the enterprise. So
the Princess kept quiet and toured the helpless
Miss Johnson round, and wrote at regular
intervals letters to her guardian full of
admirable descriptions of the places and
monuments visited, culled from Baedeker's
well-known hand-books. In the monotony of
luxurious travel she all but forgot Alsander.
But one night (and as she began to say one
night, Norman, who had cared little to hear
the long story, was caught to attention by the
music of her words) one night in London
she leant out of her window and watched the
Thames shining in the light of the moon. All
the dark chimneys across the water were
dancing in the moonlight like heavenly
towers: and she almost loved the city that
till then had seemed so hateful and so dark
that she could not understand why men suf-
fered to dwell therein. Then down the embank-
ment came a man singing but what was he
singing? Not the latest infamy of the halls,
nor yet a hearty British ballad but the Song
of the Black Swans of the Kradenda which
every Alsandrian knows and loves. The
Binger passed beneath her window: she cried
out, " Who goes there singing Alsandrian in
the City of London ? '' Miss Johnson was
shocked. The singer replied in English, " Who
speaks to me in Alsandrian in a voice that is
240 THE KING OF ALSANDER
like a song ? ' ! Looking more closely, the
Princess saw the singer to be a venerable and
beautiful old man.
"I am an Alsandrian: speak English no
more," she replied to his question.
" Ah ! but I must speak English," said the
" But why?"
" Because I am an Englishman, fair lady of
Alsander," replied the poet, for it was he, as
Norman had already guessed.
A little disappointed, as she confessed, the
Princess told how, nevertheless, she called the
poet to come in and see her, and to a scanda-
lized protest from Miss Johnson merely re-
joined that if he might not come in through
the door he should enter through the window.
It was the poet, then, who arranged the
secret visit of lanthe to Alsander. It was he
who suggested her disguise, he who made
friends for her in Alsander who could be
trusted with the great secret, he who managed
Miss Johnson. This latter superhuman task he
managed heaven knows how. But I think the
little old lady was a romantic and would have
come, too, had it not been necessary for her to
continue the tour and post from various
illustrious towns the charming letters which
the Princess with the poet's aid (to lighten
the touch of Baedeker) composed beforehand
ready for the post. " And so ends my tale,"
PERONELLA AND THE PRIEST 241
concluded the Princess. " Three days ago
Sf orelli, at my request, informed my guardian
of all the amazing truth: and he (stern old
man !) without one comment, has ordered me
back. I must obey. I leave to-night. Here ends
the masquerade ! "
"Poor masquerade!" cried Norman. "Is
it here the curtain falls? Whatever be the
strong and radiant drama of our lives on which
it shall rise again, I regret the masquerade ! "
Their footsteps ceased upon the garden
path. The moonlight flung their stilly shadows
to the tattered roses. On the pediment of
Love's plaster Temple one fairy light still
palely glimmered in the vast white splendour
of chaste Artemis. A nightingale trilled once,
then fell a-dreaming. And through the boy's
learned soul passed murmurs of ages far
estranged, which yet blended together and
took on a nature of their own a clear dim
note of the Athenian lyre, hinting beneath all
artificial chords the melody of the earth and
of truth, a gavotte by Lully or Rameau, a
laugh of Heine, or songs they sang at the
Cremorne Gardens, twenty years ago. He felt
the moonlit sky, the ruined bowers, the
Temple and the roses dwindle and shapen
into the scenery of a stage as though the
girl in travesty before him had made a mock-
ery of all the linked worlds. Then suddenly he
242 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" Columbine," he said, " you will not leave
me thus ? "
She stepped away from him lightly, arms
" And what are you to me, Pierrot ? " she
cried; " or Columbine to you ? ' !
" To me," he answered, " you are the colour
of the soul of the marble statues, and the
shape of the movement of the gliding moon."
" Like her," she laughed, " I shine falsely
and I shine pale. Like her, to you I am only a
shape that is no shape and a colour that is no
" I will chase you from shape to shape," re-
plied the young King. " I will pursue you from
hue to hue ; though you change to a slim gazelle
or silver fish or a little seed of corn. And when I
have conquered you at last, and held you, and
driven you to your true and pristine form,
then victorious, as now vanquished, will I
swear eternal passion at your feet."
And he knelt on one knee before her.
"Why, Pierrot!" she whispered, "you
said you would not love me yet ! "
" But that," he replied, " was three hours
" Pursue me no more, Pierrot," she warned
him. "The moon has tricked your eye: the
scents of the garden have deceived your heart.
Am I not still Arnolfo ? am I not still a boy ? "
" Columbine," he replied, " I am pleading
PERONELLA AND THE PRIEST 243
for love. Answer me now, tell me my doom,
torment me no longer, for I hear approaching
the fiery wheels of your departure."
" Oh, what a thirst for words you have,"
sighed she. " Stay there on your knees in
silence, impatient, importunate Pierrot, and
wait till I choose to answer."
4; They have come to take you away ! " he
cried. " Your dragon is roaring at the gate.
Your answer, Columbine ! "
" Oh, stay there kneeling as I bid you," she
cried, " and forget your thirst for words. Was
it your mother, boy, who gave you eyes that
colour in the night? Stay there and do not
speak or raise your glance till you hear my
dragon rolling me away and let me give you,
in my own fashion, the silent answer of my
farew r ell."
She spake, and the very dragon ceased to
roar, as though even his steely heart recog-
nized the bell-like voice of his mistress, com-
manding silence throughout the world.
Haunted with expectation Norman bowed his
eyes: soon he felt her presence bending over
him its wings. Softly her arm stole across his
shoulder, and suddenly, to his great wonder,
fell over his cheek a wave of the soft and
fragrant hair he had never seen; and on his
lips she answered him.
Too soon she was gone: but he obeyed her
to the end; ecstasy which had snatched his
244 THE KING OF ALSANDER
spirit out into the realms of fire, had left his
body frozen like ice and statues and the moon.
He listened immobile to her step fading down
the garden: he heard the rumour of her de-
parture. Then he rose and like a man whom
life has forgotten, he walked slowly back to
his royal home.
But as for Peronella, she, poor girl, had
made her way home early enough, clinging to
her mother, not heeding the pity, envy,
laughter or ridicule of the revellers, dozens of
whom pointed to her to make their comment
so famous was she now. On her arrival she
paid no attention to her mother's attempts to
reassure her (which consisted in the reflection
that no harm had been done, and the assertion
that the King would provide her with a mag-
nificent dowry), but rushing to her room, as
ten thousand million disappointed maids have
done before, she flung herself on the bed and
burst into tears. Then she opened her box and
took out a letter. A little slip may ruin a great
cause, and the conspirators, who had thought
to make all their plans so neatly and com-
pletely, had forgotten about letters. And this
was a letter, with a British postmark and
addressed to Norman Price.
" All Alsander may be deceived," cried
Peronella to herself. " But I'll be even with
PERONELLA AND THE PRIEST 245
the liar." Peronella, after a moment's hesi-
tation, opened the letter with a little knife,
cunningly, so that it could be sealed again.
It was, of course, in English, so she could
not understand it. She put it under her pillow
with a peasant's caution, and cried herself to
The next morning she found Father Algio
whom she sought at the confessional.
" You do well to come to me," said the
priest, kindly. " You have been away too
"Ah! father," said Peronella, with a not
quite honest sigh.
" The ways of Princes are not our ways,
Peronella, and hard is the lot of the women
whose path they cross."
"Princes? " said Peronella. "Do you be-
lieve that tale? A Prince that Englishman
who said he loved me ? "
" What do you mean, my daughter ? Which
tale ? v
" Do you believe that that Englishman who
came to stay with us was our King Andrea ? ' !
" But who ever doubted it, girl ? " rejoined
the old priest, pretending greater astonish-
ment than he felt, for, after all, similar ques-
tions had been in the hearts of many. " In
that he came to Alsander in secret for a few
days before his accession we all count it for
great wisdom on his part. You must be mad,
246 THE KING OF ALSANDER
girl, to talk such treason. Could all our rulers
be lying to us ? v
" Well, read this letter," said Peronella.
" I cannot, for it is in English. It is addressed
to him under the name he had when he was
with me. It arrived after he left."
The worthy priest, who had been expecting
a sad confession of deviation from the straight
path of virtue, was more shocked than he
would have been at any weakness of the flesh,
at this manifestation of coldness, pettiness
and deceit. (He need not be therefore accused
of having hoped for a romantic tale. His long
experience told him that small sins were some-
times worse than great ones.)
" Give me the letter," he said. Taking it, he
addressed the girl severely. " You have com-
mitted many sins," he said. " You have
sinned in stupidly doubting your lawful King ;
in thinking yourself cleverer than all the rest
of Alsander; in taking a letter, which was not
yours; in opening that letter and in attempting
to disclose its contents to another. I shall
reseal the letter and send it instantly to the
palace: nor will I betray my King by giving
a single glance at the contents. I am most
displeased with you, my daughter."
" You will think differently of me when you
have read the letter," sneered Peronella, rising
and departing abruptly down the aisle with a
confident and cynical laugh a laugh sad
PERONELLA AND THE PRIEST 247
years older than her laughter of a week
The old priest looked after her with melan-
choly eyes, then let his glance fall on the
letter. He then read it.
Father Algio was a strictly virtuous and
honourable old man. He must, therefore, have
had good reason for acting in this strictly
dishonourable fashion, doing practically there-
by what he had reprimanded Peronella for
doing, exactly what he had given his word
not to do, and exactly what Peronella had
prophesied he would do. Was it that something
the girl said had struck him, and he believed
in her more than he pretended to do ? Was it
that he had a spiritual intuition? I fear no.
The envelope being open, and he equipped
with a slight knowledge of the English tongue,
he could not resist the temptation. Was he a
fraud ? No more than St Peter or King David.
He was just that very common phenomenon
which novelists refuse to admit a good man
doing a bad action, with no extenuating cir-
The letter ran in the original thus (which
was not quite as Father Algio closeted in his
library with a very old English dictionary
rendered it into Alsandrian, but no matter) :
MY DEAR SON
" Mr Gaflfekin did give me your address
248 THE KING OF ALSANDER
which you never thought to send to me or
write a line and I think you might have more
affection for your old father with one foot in
his grave than to leave him and go to foreign
parts without a word not to mention robbing
me of all my money which I will forgive if you
will give back the money at once as I am very
poor and the shop going badly, though it was a
great sin and shame to rob your father and if
you come back I will see you, your loving
Having made out the rough sense of this
the old priest tumbled his head on his beard.
A quick psychologist, he knew he had before
him a genuine human document, an able
logician, he soon deduced the facts of the case
from the given data. Then he arose, struck
the table violently, swore that divine guidance
had prompted him to read the letter (whereby
he added the sin of hypocrisy to that of curi-
osity and misnamed the latter) Not only was
the King an impostor, it seemed, but a vulgar
thief as well. He sat in his armchair for some
time, pondering on what plan he should pursue.
At last he left the monastery and, taking the
letter and his translation with him, he com-
municated them in a secret interview to Count
Vorza that very night.
And this explains how it was that Count
Vorza spent yet a second night pacing up and
down his gorgeous courtyard.
THE COUNTER CONSPIRACY: AN EPI-
SODE IN THE STYLE OF THE WORST
Down in a deep dark hole the society plotted a horror.
IT was some three weeks after the date of the
last chapter that Count Vorza left the palace
without giving the customary notification to
his august master (who was taking his august
siesta), at two o'clock in the afternoon.
He passed quickly along, avoiding observa-
tion and courting the most devious by-ways,
till he came at last to an obscure and squalid
doorway at the end of a filthy alley.
|" Who is there ? " inquired a girl's treble.
" Invent '
He followed into a bare and horrible cellar,
damper than a subaqueous vault. This was
the Temple of Conspiracy, or shall we say
Counter-Conspiracy ? correctly chosen, accord-
ing to all traditions, an utterly unnecessary,
even dangerous, choice, for the house of
Peronella would have been a far safer resort
than this most suspect vault. But no Alsan-
250 THE KING OF ALSANDER
drian conspirator could have enjoyed himself
or felt at ease in less mysterious, less uncom-
fortable surroundings. Truly the scene was
picturesque enough to satisfy the most thea-
trical appetite: and the motives of the
conspirators themselves in plotting against
the impostor were various enough to give
psychological interest to the melodrama.
Dark girder beams projected low, so that the
tallest had to stoop: and illumination was
produced day and night from a sickly and evil-
smelling lamp. Nor were the individuals here
assembled less in keeping with the true spirit
of second-rate tragedy that pervades the novels
of the good old school of Harrison Ainsworth.
Here was Cesano, his arms folded, his back
to the wall, confident in his power of fascina-
tion, aglow with a foretaste of revenge.
Peronella had avowed herself sick enough of her
English Grocer-King, when Cesano, bursting
with Father Algio's tremulous confidences,
flung himself at her feet. But there was a fine,
large step between hating Norman and loving
Cesano: and the girl had by now regained
enough spirits to teaze quite heartlessly her
sombre suitor. She also laughed a little at the
conspiracy, but enjoyed being important. She
tried at first to give herself the black air of a
desolate Ariadne: but soon discarded it in the
delights of plotting. She had grown up very
swiftly her beauty was a flourish of trumpets
THE COUNTER CONSPIRACY 251
but how the charm had fled! She was en-
trusted with the task of admitting the con-
spirators into the cellar upon the pronounce-
ment of the password. She had taken to
practising with a very expensive revolver
which she had made Cesano give her, and also
to smoking cigarettes, to the distress of Father
Algio, who was seated beside her on a packing
case. Cesano, whose presence we have re-
marked, had chosen the darkest corner of the
cellar to glower in. Other conspirators prowled
round. The lamp was giving out more smoke
than ever and the room was stifling. No one
could have kept quite sane in such an atmos-
phere for half-an-hour.
The venerable form of Vorza was greeted
with respect and enthusiasm.
" Has anything happened, Duke Vorza ? "
inquired Peronella, whose modesty was de-
creasing, before anyone else could get in a word.
" Nothing," said Vorza. " The notice will
be round the town in an hour's time: Cuvas
has worked well: the whole town will be in the
castle square and the usurper will meet his
" What doom ? " inquired Peronella, meekly.
" Oh, I doubt if we shall have to take formal
proceedings against him. The mob will tear
him to pieces, I imagine. Lynch law those
damned republics have taught us something,
after all. Ah ! is that Cuvas ? "
252 THE KING OF ALSANDER
Peronella opened the door and Cuvas, the
weary-looking editor of the Alsandrian Gazette,
stepped into the room, a stick of a man.
" You have managed splendidly," said
Vorza to him.
" I am very tired. You do speak loudly, by
the way. I could hear you right outside."
' What, talking about the probable end of
our mock King? ' :
" Yes, and I did not like your talk entirely.
Couldn't you ensure his safety? It would be
rather a stroke. You see, very luckily the
usurper made no attempt against King Andrea
but simply put him into an asylum, as we
have discovered. Wouldn't it look well in the
eyes of Europe if we treated the usurper with
the same leniency? Lynching doesn't look
well, you know: it doesn't look well."
Cuvas was a man of peace, and not
quite such a fool as the others, as will be
" Why, what an absurd idea ! " exclaimed
the Duke. " You are a queer man, Cuvas, or I
would have to call you a coward."
" It would give Alsander such a bad name
in the world, brutally to destroy a man who,
after all, has done little harm and some good,
and we must remember we belong to a civi-
lized State and are now engaged in making
history. That is the way things are worked
nowadays, you know. Look at Portugal, and
THE COUNTER CONSPIRACY 253
Turkey and China. I repeat, the grocer has set
a good example."
" You dare praise him for not having killed
your lawful King ! " cried Father Algio.
u You dare compare the foul deposition
of a legitimate monarch to the upsetting of a
alow-born, vile, foreign impostor !" cried Vorza.
" Of course not," said Cuvas. " But I depre-
cate excitement. I deprecate bloodshed. It's
the style in which you write your article, not
what you say in it, that draws the populace.
It's the way you conduct your revolution, not
the justice of your cause, that appeals to the
diplomats. You must remember that to some
people there would be a good deal to be said
for the impostor."
" Good things to be said of a grocer ! "
" A Persian cobbler founded Persia's best
dynasty," said Cuvas. " And a grocer is not
worse than a cobbler. And in England, all
things are different: I have heard that in that
country grocers may be the friends of Kings
and have been ennobled."
" Those English ! " groaned Vorza, with
contempt. " We are Alsandrians, not Per-
sians, or English, and God be praised! But
why to-day of all days do you trouble us with
literary dissertations, Cuvas? What has this
grocer done that you should defend him
before he dies ? "
254 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" Well, he has worked already, and worked
hard, in the interests of the country. He has
begun to dredge the river and pave the streets,
and light the town. He is already planning a
"He?" said Vorza. " Do you think he
does anything ? He spends half his time shut
up with that scoundrelly Jew doctor, whom
he would have made Prime Minister if I had
Cuvas thought to himself that Vorza had had
many years of power, and yet that more had
been done for the country in the last three
weeks than during all the years of his regency.
However, he had no idea of angering the
Count, and held his peace.
" Come, Cuvas," said Father Algio. " Re-
member what work we have in hand. We have
the honour of our country to avenge. We have
the Right to fight for. Nothing but death
awaits impiety like this. I knew the young
man. I could even have loved him once. He
may be lowly born, but he looks and acts
like a King. I admit it. Truly he has played a
fine game with this country with the fiend's
aid. But were he my own brother he could not
be spared now. He has mocked at religion,
fooled the Church, driven out the anointed
Kong, blasphemed the holy oil. His sacrilege
is heavy on him, and on this land, and only
blood can wipe out our infamy. I am an old
THE COUNTER CONSPIRACY 255
man, a feeble man, yet if he were now to
come into this room I would tear him with my
own hands, and the Queen of the Skies would
give me strength to do it. Do not waver, do not
flinch, for you are about a high and holy
"I wish they would come!" interrupted
Peronella, with some impatience, quite irre-
sponsive to this outburst of sacerdotal fer-
" While we are waiting for the true ruler of
this land let us betake ourselves to prayer,"
continued the priest, not heeding her.
" I hear them ! " exclaimed the girl, starting
up and leaping to the entrance. There was a
sound of a carriage stopping outside and
much commotion at the door.
4 We have him ! " came a reassuring voice,
and three guardsmen entered, weary, per-
spiring, bedraggled and unkempt, bearing
with them on a Utter none other than the real
" We had to fight our way through the
asylum," said the excited guards, in answer
to a wind of questions. " There was no other
way to get at him. The patients have all
escaped and are gibbering in the open fields.
Some must have perished: we have had a
They continued vivifying their experiences.
Father Algio paid them no attention, but went
256 THE KING OF ALSANDER
to the bier and kissed the hand of Andrea, who
heard not, felt not, cared not, for he was very
" Where is Makzelo ? " asked Cuvas of the
guardsmen, cutting short the tale of their
The guards who had been ordered by Sf orelli
to catch and imprison Makzelo had never been
able to carry out their orders, and that sub-
terranean person had sold Vorza some very
decent information at a very decent price.
" 111, couldn't come," briefly replied the
man to whom the question was put: and the
" He is not a desperately brave man," said
Vorza "But we owe much to his connivance.
Ah ! his Majesty is opening his eyes ! "
And Vorza, who was in general a fairly
courageous person, but had not lost that
uncanny fear of lunatics to which was due the
possibility of the amazing substitution, edged
Royalty opened its eyes, blinked, shut them
again, then opened them, stared at Peronella,
sat up on his litter, and in a stridently
audible voice declared to the assembled
' I want her: she must be my Queen ! "
His eyes glowed with anticipation. All kept
silent, half wondering, half horrified, half
THE COUNTER CONSPIRACY 257
" Come here," continued Andrea, " do com
here ! "
" The devil take you ! " muttered the girl, re-
treating to the end of the room.
" Do not speak like that to the King," said
" Come here. I command you. This time I
must be obeyed," pursued the old maniac, and
a dread sight he was with his stubbly beard
and unholy light in his eyes. " They are
always taking me away from you! I have
waited such a long time I want to kiss you !
Will no one bring her here ? This world is all
full of traitors and liars."
" Go to him," said Vorza to Peronella.
" Cesano, persuade her ! "
Peronella's face flushed hot with disgust.
The King rose right up and tottered towards
her. She instantly put her hand to her girdle
and levelled her pistol at him.
" Put him back! " she said, with a quiet-
ness almost hysterical.
They had to obey her, well knowing her
determined spirit; and fearing the King would
become violent the guards strapped him down
upon his litter, but fortunately the jolting of
the carriage had tired him thoroughly and he
slept once more.
" It seems almost a pity," said Cuvas,
softly, " to dethrone so active and enter-
prising an usurper merely to put that driv
that unfortunate King in his place. * ' s
258 THE KING OF ALSANDER
He spoke half to himself, but the others
heard him. They all began to talk at once with
the angry remonstrance of men who feel that
they may be in the wrong.
" What is progress ? " said Vorza. " We
have been happy for a thousand years and will
be for another thousand if we are left alone."
" Nothing can come of lies but failure," said
" We are in it to the death now," said
" Oh ! that is true : so am I. And we have not
the slightest prospect of failure. I only said
it had a regrettable aspect," said the editor.
" And I wondered if any of the people might
think so, too, and not be over-anxious to join us
when the moment comes ! v
" Oh, Cuvas ! " said Vorza, in what he took
for a light, bantering tone. " You always were
a damned old Liberal at heart. But the people
of Alsander are staunch and true, and love
the old principles, the beauty of their religion,
the glories of their city. They do not want
their churches desecrated by an unbeliever,
their city made boisterous by ugly trains, their
pure torrents debased to turn buzzing ma-
chines, their river bed all churned up into mud
by dredgers, their virgin mountains defiled by
smoke and steam."
" But they have shown no discontent,"
objected the editor, not daring to taunt Vorza
THE COUNTER CONSPIRACY 259
for declaring his hatred of the reforms of
which he had a few minutes ago delicately
suggested himself as the real author.
" You spend all your day on a stool, Cuvas.
What do you know about the hearts of our
people? You have no time to do anything
but transcribe telegrams. The people do not
mind, because they are so pleased to have their
King returned to sanity. What did I hear an
old man say but a few hours ago ? He said that
no one could become sane straight at once,
after all those years ; that one might forgive all
this reforming nonsense at first, and that he
wished anyone might have cured the Sovereign
but that hellish Jew of a doctor ! v
" Curses on him ! " said Father Algio.
" Are you content now, Count Cuvas ? v
The title was only in part in jest: ennoble-
ment was the understood reward of complicity.
" You are right: I am well contented," said
Cuvas. " I have, of course, some ideas which I
do not share with you, but in this business
command me. I have joined your conspiracy
because I cannot stand immorality and im-
posture," he added, with dignity. " Still, I can
but think it only right to remark once in
public now that it cannot affect our action
what I have so often remarked to you in
private that it would have been no imposture
but sound policy to ask old Count Arnolfo
260 THE KING OF ALSANDER
whether the rightful heir to the throne, the
Princess lanthe, were not fit to conduct a
Considerable stir was caused by these words
of Cuvas, which reflected thoughts which
many a conspirator had been waiting for
some one else to utter.
" And I have answered you as many times,"
cried Vorza, turning on him in a veritable
fury, " that I have clear evidence that Count
Arnolfo's own son was implicated in this
dastardly plot. A fine person to ask for in-
formation or advice, your Arnolf o ! Let us
first of all get Andrea safely restored, and then
we can talk about a Regency ! "
" Well, well," said Cuvas, " you are our
leader ! " He said it in a tone of resignation
which was entirely false, for Cuvas was by no
means the simple-souled Conservative-Liberal
he seemed. His little speeches, as well as his
actions, were a cunning preparation for all
eventualities. Two days ago he had sent a
trusty messenger to Count Arnolfo to inform
him truly not only that the King of Alsander
had proved a grocer, but also that the said
grocer was in imminent peril of his life and
" Is it nearly time ? " called one of the
guards. " I hear a noise outside."
Vorza, the only man of the party who pos-
sessed a watch (for in Alsander you go by the
THE COUNTER CONSPIRACY 261
cathedral bells), looked at it, and cried, " So it
is ! " The little company hesitated and each of
them turned cold for a moment with the terror of
excitement. Outside there was a clattering and
shouting in the streets, the curious persistent
sound of people running all in the same direc-
"Come!" said Vorza. "Where is the
wine ? "
The wine, or rather spirit, was produced
from a bottle in the corner, and poured out
into a great bowl, from which each drank in
turn, pledging the sleeper in their midst.
Then with a shout of " The King ! The King ! "
and with revolvers pointing carelessly aloft and
an Alsandrian banner borne by Peronella in
the van, the little party streamed out into
the alley, and hardly were they in the street
when their shout seemed to re-echo all round
them and a tremendous cry rose up, thunder-
ous, to heaven, " The King ! The King ! "
When you paint a battle-scene let every inch of the
foreground be dabbled with blood.
Leonardo da Vinci.
ON this very day the King was inspecting the
throne-room in the company of Dr Sforelli,
who was a person endowed, like most of his
race, with a sound artistic instinct. They were
gazing on the broken plaster cupids, the faded
chinoiseries and singeries, and the immortal
lion throne of the Kradenda.
" You must have this renewed," observed
Sforelli, stroking his swarthy beard. " It will
make a splendid and royal hall."
" Some day," said the King. " Not while
there remains a road unpaved or a street
lamp unlit in the city of Alsander. Not till my
harbour is deep enough for all the navies of
the world. And then it shall not be renewed,
it shall be cleaned of all the plaster and paint,
and left to stand with the ornament of its
proportion and no other, save the lion chair of
the first Kradenda."
" It rings false, sir. You think you will
attain the high ideal of artistic restraint by
taking away all the art like your Galsworthy.
These little monkeys running up the vine leaves
are so well done that I doubt if you wouldfind out
of France a painter fit to repair them. Those
engaging Chinamen have an idiotic expression
which fills the heart with delight. If you do not
want them here, where I admit they are out of
keeping, you must not destroy them but have
them transferred to form a lady's bower, for
which some day there will be room in the
palace. And when your Majesty has stripped
the walls of these pretty things it would be,
not merely inaesthetic, but mean-spirited,
unroyal, to leave the vast walls white. The
great Kradenda would not have left them
white, he who himself, the story tells, planned
the rose pattern mosaic beneath the cathedral
dome. If you say these Chinamen, these
monkeys, are vilely out of place, you must
find a design that will be in place and keeping."
" Allegorical figures," said the King, sar-
donically. " Justice with her eyes bandaged,
Plenty with a cornucopia, War scowling,
Peace smiling, Charity giving away a loaf of
bread, Labour with a very red body and big
calf muscles smiting at a forge, Commerce
watching her ships, Wool Industry watching
her sheep, and similar genial devices, such
as I believe you see in the offices of banks."
" Do you really think a conventional sub-
ject hinders a painter's inspiration? " replied
264 THE KING OP ALSANDER
the doctor. " The Italians painted twenty
thousand Madonnas and more than half are
worth a glance. And if the figure of Peace was
tiring in the bank, have you seen the figure of
Peace in the Town Hall of Siena ? I know of
a poor painter starving in Paris who would
wreathe your allegory in blazing sunshine by
frescoing the walls in little squares; and I
know of another, who is starving at Munich,
who, by a cunning exaggeration of hollows and
curves, would make your figures supernatural
and sublime as Michael Angelo's apostles."
" You have made me think, Sforelli," said
the King, " that there is just a chance that we
may discover a better method even than that.
It may be you spoke more truly than you
knew when you said that King Kradenda
would not have left these walls bare. Who
knows if we may not discover under the
preserving whitewash of inappreciative fools
marvels like those men say await the con-
quering Crusader who scratches off the Mos-
lem paint from St Sophia ? But damn St
Sophia ! Tell me," continued the King, abruptly
changing the subject, " what is the earliest
possible date for the projected visit of the
Princess lanthe to my court ? v
" As I have informed your Majesty," the
doctor courteously replied, " the negotiations
are not yet concluded. We hope, however, in
about two months' time. ..."
"It is intolerable ! " interrupted the King.
" Three weeks have already passed, and now.
He stopped short on the entry of a lackey
who handed him a letter bearing an English
" That," exclaimed the doctor, " I can
recognize from afar as the hand of our friend
the old Poet."
Norman tore open the letter, and the lackey
having retired, read aloud as follows:
" DEAR SIR,
" I hope I am not taking too strange
a liberty in writing to you a somewhat personal
letter, presuming on a single meeting and a
short acquaintance. My only claim upon your
attention is that I recommended to you a
plan of action which you, subsequently to my
advice but of course independently of it, did
in the end follow. I would not for a minute
presume, sir, to imagine that you were in
any way influenced by the random words of
one whom you must have taken for a most
ridiculous old dotard. It is, indeed, in order to
dispel the bad impression I must have made
on you by my eccentric dress and appearance
that I am writing to you now. May I assure
you that these follies were entirely due to
some cerebral affection, overpowering indeed,
but quite temporary, and probably induced
266 THE KING OF ALSANDER
by the extreme heat of the sun? You will
remember it was a very hot summer's day
when I entered your establishment to pur-
chase some tobacco. May I even go further,
and assure you that, apart from these sudden
outbreaks and disturbances, I have led a most
regular life, was for several years in a city
office, and was once mayor of my borough;
that I am not addicted to any criminal prac-
tices; and that I am, at home, a thoroughly
respected and respectful member of civilized
society ? But, as I say, I was in a state of mind
totally foreign to my saner and better self
that afternoon of last summer; and owing,
I believe, to the cause above suggested, the
unusual, almost volcanic, heat of the day
I had been seeing visions and dreaming
dreams after reading Adlington's Apuleius,
a book of which I am extremely fond. The
sight of an Apuleius between the hands
pardon my bluntness ! of a provision dealer
in a small and remote village upset my
nerves, and I talked to you, I fear, with an
absurd arrogance and an offensive flattery, for
which I sincerely apologize.
" I write now, partly, because I am so old
that I dare not wait and, indeed, I think that
when you read this letter you may read it as
the veritable ' Song of a man that was dead ' :
partly because I feel that a second mental
storm is arising within my worn and useless
mind, and that I shall not be responsible for
what I may shortly do. Finally, permit me
to express a hope that you are prospering in
the very high social position which you have
won a position in which I am sure your
sturdy common sense will stand you in good
stead, and that you are keeping in the best
" With sincere apologies for troubling you,
" Your devoted and obedient servant,
" LAURENCE HOPKINSON."
They had no time to comment on this
weird letter. As Norman uttered the words
" Laurence Hopkinson " it seemed to him that
he had started a spell by the very mention
of the ungainly name. A hum and murmur
came through the open windows: there was a
clatter as if the town was waking from its age-
long sleep. The inexplicable noise rose louder
and louder till it could be distinguished as a
roar of men, and the trampling and shouting
of a wrathful multitude.
They listened first in wonder, then in
alarm, silent. At last Norman cried, " Can
you hear what they are shouting ? "
" They are crying ' The King ! The King ! '
ic It is not a demonstration in my honour,"
said Norman, grimly. " Will you come with
ma and see ? "
268 THE KING OF ALSANDER
They crossed the palace courtyard to-
gether. Norman remarked with pleasure that
the guard were already at the gates.
" There is no danger," said Sforelli, calmly.
" All the guards are true as steel. The castle
is defended by cannon. The guards know their
work well, and we can depend on them to
the last breath."
' Viva la rego. Viva nia rego. Viva la rego
vera! " thundered the populace. " Viva . . ."
but the iron gates clanged to, and the sound
was cut off sharp and the murmur sounded
once more dim and far.
A second after, the old Captain of the Palace
Guard appeared, a fine white-whiskered old
gentleman soldier. He deferentially insisted
on leading them into a room above the gate-
way, whence the crowd could be viewed
in all safety. The Captain of the Guard pro-
vided them with seats and bowed. " I have to
apologize," he said, " for not having come to
your side at once, but I thought my first duty
was to secure the defences. I can assure your
Majesty that there is no danger: and at a
word from you we can clear the square."
" Let us give them a chance first," said the
King. " I wonder if I could talk to them and
find out exactly what they want ! "
" They will believe no voice but that of the
cannon," said the Captain, gravely, " and
the sooner that voice talks the better. There
is unfortunately no doubt as to what they
want. Look out of this loophole and look at
that litter in the centre of the square. They
have got Andrea with them, and they mean to
" Well, if we are found out, we are found
out," said Norman, with a merry laugh.
" Men that are fools enough to support a
cause like theirs," exclaimed Sforelli, " men
who prefer to be ruled by a legitimate madman
rather than by a true natural King deserve a
triple death. Sir, will you not order the Captain
to fire ? ' !
" I am in no hurry to shoot down those poor
idealists," objected Norman. " For them
truth is more important than prosperity: and
there is a great deal to be said for their point
of view. And you, Captain," he added, turning
to the old guardsman at his side, " do you not
sympathize in your heart with those tumul-
tuous voices on the square ? Are you willing
to fire on your fellow-citizens for the sake of a
foreign usurper ? "
The old Captain drew himself up and saluted.
" My King," he said, stiffly. " I hold your life
in trust from Princess lanthe. In fighting for
you we fight for her and for her we would
blow the whole rabble of Alsander to the
moon and ourselves after them. It is she who
has commanded us to obey you, and obey you
wo shall, like the boys obeyed the Old Man of
270 THE KING OF ALSANDER
the Mountains, even if you order us to fling
ourselves down man by man from the Western
Tower. But let me add, Sir, that I and my
company do not think that the Princess,
whom God preserve, could have chosen a finer
ruler for Alsander than the man you have
shown yourself to be even in these very few
days, my lord the King."
" Captain," replied Norman, " I thank you.
I entrust the defence of the Castle entirely to
your wisdom. I have only this request to
make. I beg of you, let the first shots you fire
from our cannon be blank, and the first loaded
shells you send pass high above the heads of
the crowd; and do not bring out the murderous
quickfirers except at the last necessity.
Alsandrian blood would weigh heavily upon
me, Captain, and not less heavily, I think, on
our Royal Mistress."
All the while the King was speaking the
savage roar never ceased echoing up through
the window " Fling us down the grocer ! a
rope for all traitors! the river for the
foreigner ! the stake for the foreigner ! "
The Captain took ceremonious leave in
order to attend to his artillery. " I will strictly
carry our your Majesty's recommendations,"
he promised. " We will see if the Castle cannot
at least make as much noise as the town."
Left to themselves, Norman and Sforelli
observed through an old loophole the tur-
bulent scene on the square below. The
hideous mob were swarming before the closed
gates and inexpugnable walls: some were
trying to collect wood in order to set fire to the
Castle, while others were attempting to drag
into place some prehistoric guns which the
conspirators had unearthed Heaven knows
where. Others, again, had diverted their
attentions to Sforelli's house, which stood in a
corner of the square, and having smashed the
windows and burst in the door to a full chorus
of Jew-baiting insults, were now proceeding,
in order to assuage their disappointment at
finding the owner out, to loot each apartment
very thoroughly, as could be seen by the
phials of acids, books, bottled anatomical
specimens and occasional articulated skeletons
which came flying out of the upper windows.
' They will be accusing me of ritual murder
next ! " exclaimed the doctor sorrowfully, as
his third and best skeleton came crashing down
on the cobbles. " Only I do wish the Captain
would hurry up and fire."
At that moment, with tremendous noise and
smoke, all the cannons pealed in unison.
4 Your blank is being as effective as Napo-
leon's 'whiff of grape! ' " exclaimed Sforelli
as soon as the smoke began to roll away.
The crowd were radiating away from the
square like a shower of meteors from their
272 THE KING OF ALSANDER
centre, seized by a horrible panic. A second
harmless broadside of the cannon seemed to
have cleared the square completely.
' The square is empty ! " cried the King.
" Not quite empty," remarked Sforelli.
" What is that over there to the right ? "
The King followed the direction of his
glance and saw a grisly, battered old sedan
chair standing like a dismal island in one
corner of the square, beyond the great statue
of Kradenda, its tinsel trappings glittering
indecently in the sunlight. As he continued to
watch it curiously he saw that from the win-
dow of this shabby litter a white and twitch-
ing face kept bobbing out, a face that w r ore
what could be seen even at that distance to be
an irritating expression of mild surprise and
"It is their King," said Sforelli, in deep
scorn, looking at the tall and handsome figure
beside him, as though he were making a
" This is our time for action," said Norman,
glad enough to find a plan for doing some-
thing at last. " Our best course will be to go
out and bring that poor imbecile into the
castle, now that the square is empty, and hold
him as a hostage till the leader of this rabble,
who I suppose is Vorza, comes in to parley.
And the King, with Sforelli at his heels,
rushed down the stairs to the lodge of the
gateway where the arms were kept. Having
armed himself and his companion with a brace
of revolvers, he sent to inform the Captain,
and taking with him Sforelli, who refused to
leave him, and half-a-dozen men of the Palace
Guard, they crossed the square in the direction
of the grotesque old sedan chair.
The little company arrived there in a second :
not a soul came to oppose them; not a rifle
cracked : not a leaf stirred. But when the King
was already only a pace or two from the sedan
chair, there sprang out suddenly from behind
it, like a splendid Amazon, a woman armed.
Her hair was loose, her beautiful head poised
proudly, her breast half uncovered, her bare
right arm swung at her side, and from her
right hand gleamed the barrel of a revolver.
Norman sprang back, startled, and hardly
recognized the wild apparition.
From within the sedan chair came a dismal
moan, " My Queen ! my Queen ! they have
come to take away my Queen ! " and the pale
head once more came wandering out of the
"So," said Norman, "that is your new
lover, Peronella ? "
The girl shivered with disgust at the accusa-
tion, but she answered proudly enough: " That
is the King of Alsander, you lying English
tradesman, and I am here to guard him. You
had better have stayed safe in your palace
274 THE KING OF ALSANDER
walls. And you had better never have come to
Alsander first to betray its women and then to
betray its King. And now we shall see who is
stronger, you or I ! "
" You are growing eloquent, Peronella,"
said Norman, coolly, " but I have no time
to answer your reproaches. I should only like
to remark that it is usual to leave a man to
guard legitimate monarchs who are in posi-
tions of such exceptional difficulty and dan-
' They ran away ! " said Peronella, con-
" Well, we have come to take your charge
into the palace. We will not harm him or
you. Lift the chair," said the King, command-
ing his guards and turning to the girl he said,
c Will you not come, too ? You will be safe
till this folly is over."
" Thank you for the invitation," retorted
the girl. " I am not a Circassian slave ! r
And raising her revolver quickly she fired
it full in his face. Had not one of the guards,
who had been watching her narrowly, knocked
up her arm and wrested the weapon from her
this story had ended some pages sooner.
" Why did you shoot at him ? " said the
King, looking again out of his window, dimly
comprehending what had happened. " Leave
him, my Queen: he is surely my faithful
knight who delivered me from the dragon."
But the sound of the shot had its effect.
The square was full of eyes and ears. Hun-
dreds saw from their hiding-places how the
false King with only four men about him, had
come out intending, as they thought, to kill
the true King, and they surmised that the
great heroine, the divine Peronella, for whom
they were ready to die a thousand deaths, was
in danger. And they also observed, in quick
whispers, one to another, that if the English-
main were in the square the cannon could not
be fired at them for fear of killing him too.
Also they were beginning to realize that no
one had been hurt by the last firing of the said
cannon, and one voluble fellow swore that to
his personal knowledge the cannons were only
what he called salute cannons, and there was
no ammunition in the Castle. These several
considerations ran in whispers from mouth to
mouth and fanned the flickering courage of
the Legitimists, and, a thousand to eight, they
rushed back into the square they had so
speedily deserted ten minutes ago with a
shout of triumph. Seeing the deadly peril of
their master and the impossibility of using
their cannon effectively, the Palace Guards
instantly made a sortie under the command of
the old Captain, and in a few seconds a savage
fight was raging all round the statue of Kra-
Peronella, snatched away from the guards-
276 THE KING OF ALSANDER
man who had disarmed her by the rude hands
of passionate rescuers, was born aloft, waving in
her hand, in place of the ravished revolver, a
frantic, bloody sword wherewith the gallant
Cesano, with a mighty sweep, had just slashed
off the arm of one of the guards. The odds for the
moment were tremendous against the Palace.
There were only ten men left to guard the
door, which could not be shut for fear of
barring the escape of the others; and fifty
other guards were pushing their way towards
Norman and his supporters an all but hope-
less task for even their discipline and superior
weapons were useless against a mad mob of a
But a diversion came from an unexpected
quarter. The tumult had strangely affected
Andrea and strange phantoms were dancing
down the crooked corridors of his mind. For
him the noise of the sorry tumult became the
noise of his battle, and the pushing, shuffling
throng behind him were his trampling war-
riors serried in their thousands. He remem-
bered his ancestry and heard the voice of him
who was called Iron. Brave words from old
and musty books fanned the sleeping fires
of his manhood; lovely forms of long dead
women, memories of tattered tapestries and
dim old paintings sailed before his dazzled,
visionary eyes. But clearest and fairest he saw,
as it were, amongst all those phantoms one
figure passionately real the figure of Peron-
ella waving her bloodstained sword. Why had
they taken her away ? The enemy had taken
her, and she was calling to him for aid. He
could not but obey the summons of her dis-
tressed beauty, perfect knight of chivalry that
" At them, my men ! " he cried. " Save the
Queen ! Follow me ! "
And he leapt out of his couch, tugging at
the sword wherewith the conspirators had
adorned him, lest he should be too pitiable
a sight, even for loyalists. It had been fastened
into its scabbard for security, but wrenching
scabbard and all from his belt he dealt such a
shattering blow on the head of the nearest
bystander that the scabbard flew off along a
jet of blood, and in an insjbant the King was
dealing round him madly with his naked
sword. Three of his loyal subjects became
martyrs to their cause by mistake before
anyone could realize danger: others fled before
him. In another second he would have clasped
Peronella in his arms, but her attendant
swains bore her to safety behind the great
statue of Kradenda, which stood proudly in
the centre of the square, above all the tur-
The King saw an old helmeted warrior
thrice the size of life, standing between him
and his beloved. He knew not it was his
278 THE KING OF ALSANDER
ancestor, suspected not that it was stone.
He dealt the statue a furious blow with his
sword, and his sword fell shattered at his feet.
He leapt on to the statue and clutched it
round the neck. It fell over him. In one mass
on the ground, all crushed and broken, lay
together the statue of Kradenda and the body
Thus, in the temporary realization of the
chivalrous ideal, his shattered sword stained
with foolish blood, was Andrea the Mad, for
nine years King of Alsander, killed by the
statue of his celebrated ancestor. And as to
what madness is, and whether we are mad and
they are sane, that is a long discussion, but it
is certain that it is an ill thing for the sane to
rule the mad, or the mad the sane. And it is
known that there was a light of glory and hap-
piness shining in Andrea's eyes at the mo-
ment of his death such as none of us will ever
show when we look into the mouth of the pit:
and it may be his life was well worth while,
to attain that moment.
* * * *
However, this strange incident and the very
detonation of the statue's fall, seemed only to
incite the fury of the mob. With a blind rush
they surrounded Norman's little company,
thereby cutting them off hopelessly from the
thirty or forty Palace Guards who were
passionately struggling to the rescue. Had the
crowd been properly armed, Norman and his
friends would have been annihilated at once:
but fortunately only a few of the populace had
revolvers and the rest, equipped only with
mattocks and stones, took good care to keep
out of range of the swords of the guardsmen,
and dreaded still more than those circling
swords the unpleasantly quick and accurate
automatic pistols with which the Palace
fought. Moreover, Norman's band had gained
great heart from the gallant behaviour of
the little wizened Cassolis and four other
members of the Advancement Association
who, not being known participants of the
conspiracy, pushed their way through the
seething masses to the King's side, and on their
arrival suddenly whipped out their revolvers
and fired point plank at the assailants.*
But the respite was a short one; the multi-
tude seemed to swell above them like a mon-
strous wave. Stones wrenched from the cobbled
ground hailed round the devoted band, stray
bullets pinged and splashed on the pedestal
of the fallen statue against which, above the
* I much regret my inability to bring in at this
juncture our old friend the British Consul at Alsander.
Unfortunately he was not in town, but had taken ad-
vantage of a well-earned holiday to go shooting in the
mountains. Had he been in Alsander there is little doubt
but that he would have pushed through the crowd in
his uniform to claim and protect Norman as a British
280 THE KING OF ALSANDER
very body of Andrea, they had set their
backs for a last stand. At all events they were,
in the old phrase, selling their lives dearly.
Of the bodies that lay around them they con-
structed a bleeding and quivering rampart,
on the summit of which one of the guards,
wounded to death, heroically laid himself to
It was now that Vorza, with that popular
heroine Peronella at his side, rallied his forces
for a vigorous onset, and the reactionary
statesman, espying the swarthy head of
Sforelli towering over the fight, screamed out
in a passion, " Cut down that cowardly Jew ! "
" I'll give you cowardly Jew ! " roared
Sforelli in answer, and rushing out from
behind that crimson fleshy fortification of
theirs he flung through the crowd straight at
their startled leader. All fell back in terror
from his mad attack. Sforelli reached his goal
in a flash and seized Vorza lightly as it seemed
by the shoulders. The next instant all that
statesmanship went hurtling over the heads of
the crowd; and the next, that brain, which had
furnished so much valuable counsel to the
citizens of Alsander, was spilt over the stony
floor. Norman, for all his astonishment,
realized in a flash at the same moment what
master of the art had taught the frail Princess
the trick that had once laid him low on the
floor of the curiosity shop, a woman's victim.
But the wrestler's skill could no further avail
Sforelli; he paid for his vengeance with his
life. He fell, literally bashed to death, and his
excellent soul, released from the unprepossess-
ing body, descended to whatever dark abode
is destined for the disciples of Voltaire, at the
very moment that Vorza's (for Vorza never
stirred again) was carried off by angels.
Death, shame to tell, did not rescue the
doctor's battered body from the insults of
the populace, and among that evil populace
conspicuous was Peronella, delirious at the
sight of pain and blood, like other fighting
women of history of whom record tells.
Cesano saw with horror her dripping arms and
the vile glitter in her eyes. Good honest fellow
that he was, beneath all his extravagances, he
feared for her reason and was ashamed for her
womanhood. Little did that lover care at that
moment for foolish Conspiracy, or the leader-
less crowd that gaped around him: he seized
Peronella, swung her roughly from the ground
and bore her out of the fray.
Short enough was the relief which the
spectacular death of the opposing leader
afforded to the Palace, but a relief it was.
For a full minute's space the shepherdless
rabble recoiled, and the now decimated party
of the Palace Guards, fighting their way
towards the centre of the square, took heart
of grace. Heavily they laid on around them,
282 THE KING OF ALSANDER
with much hacking and hewing at hands and
heads and frequent hamstringing of their
terrified adversaries. Blood rained down from
their swords like heavy snow melting from the
trees in early spring. But before they had made
twenty yards of headway the courage and
fanatic zeal of Father Algio had rendered even
this great effort vain. Raising a silver cross on
high he called " Vengeance for the King "
with such fury that the whole crowd took up
the shout and a deafening " Vengeance "
boomed over the square like a blast of the
North wind. Those who surrounded the fiery-
eyed old priest made a dash at the ghastly
barricade and began tearing it down. Then
indeed Norman, thrice wounded, gasping,
slipping on blood and tattered flesh, expected
the sudden darkness ; and in his extremity, as
though to reply to the crowd's yell for ven-
geance, he could not but cry aloud the name
that for him evoked all the joy of living.
Fiercely enough his followers took up the cry,
shouting, with uplifted swords, " lanthe and
for lanthe ! " making the name of their Lady
ring and ring out again with all the passion
of men about to die."
Suddenly, at that very minute, with such
weird effect that some of the little band
dreamt they had died already, there pealed
through the Castle square what seemed the
enchanted answer of their shouting, not that
savage cry of vengeance, but a yet stranger, a
yet wilder tumult, the blowing of a hundred
horns with rattling hoof-beats to mark the
measure. And forthwith from the great North
Road poured into the square at full gallop,
their horses foaming and steaming, a troop of
cavalry in the radiant panoply of the Royal
Alsandrian Frontier Guard. In the hush caused
by their astounding entry their burly colonel
put up a megaphone and bawled, " Cease fire
in the name of the Princess! All fighting to
cease ! " However, without waiting for this
command to take effect the troopers laid on
with their long whips and drove back the
rabble to one corner of the square, at the same
time forming guard round Norman and their
fellow soldiers of the Palace.
The Englishman and his followers leant back
half dead against the blood-stained marble,
stunned by this deliverance, too weak to ask
one question of their rescuers. And then down
into the midst of the square towards them,
escorted by one whom many knew to be the
old Count Arnolfo, on a great glistening black
horse, rode the Princess lanthe.
"And where," she cried, "is the King of
Alsander ? " and at the very moment of her
asking her eyes lighted full on Norman.
She was bronze helmeted, a very Athena,
and dressed in the gold and green uniform of
the Alsandrian Riders, but it was lanthe the
284 THE KING OF ALSANDER
woman who commanded the square, calling
for her King. Her face indeed still looked
boyish enough, with her hair half hidden by
the flashing helmet; and her young body
looked so slim in the handsome uniform that
it might well have been a lad's. The large dark
eyes, aglow with intelligence, had dominated
the face of the boy ; but as she caught sight of
Norman she smiled gently: and it was the
strange smiling of her perfect mouth that
revealed lanthe an enchantress among women.
That smile, which daVinci caught years ago and
fixed in a picture whose destiny has proved
as restless as its charm the smile of the boy-
like Renaissance women of the women who
knew art and history and secrets beautiful and
tragic which have perished with their smiles
such a smile played over the face of lanthe
as she bent her eyes down to her wounded lover,
leaning wearily on his dripping sword. And he,
looking up, saw in amaze the new apparition
of her splendour that special and rare beauty
of a woman whose life is ruled by passionate in-
telligence: and he cried out, " Queen of
Alsander! " and as she dismounted flung his
sword on the ground before her.
Seeing this parley of the Princess and the
Impostor some of the bewildered crowd
murmured, and one man shouted, " The King
of Alsander is lying dead at your feet ! "
" Ah ! " muttered lanthe, shuddering as she
looked at the staring head beneath her, " is
that Andrea ? That my kinsman ? "
" He fought with the statue till it fell on
him and slew him," explained Cassolis briefly.
" Sforelli killed Vorza and himself perished,
and your Majesty is now by undisputed title
Queen of Alsander."
" If Vorza is dead who leads this mob ? ''
inquired the grey old Count Arnolfo.
" A fanatic priest," some one replied.
" Bring him before us," the Count com-
He came before them, cross in hand, a
black cowled, black frocked, frost bearded old
monk with mad blue eyes, and before anyone
had spoken, he flung himself on his knees
" Queen of Alsander," he cried, pointing to
Norman, " if this man was known to you, was
crowned with your connivance, has been
fighting in your name, why did you not tell
your faithful people of Alsander ? "
" And why," rejoined the Princess in clear
tones that could be heard all over the square,
" when you and your friends discovered that
the King was not Andrea, did you send no
word to me, but, without the authority of the
Royal Family of Alsander, plotted by your-
selves like anarchists ? "
" And why," said Norman, " did you,
again like anarchists, send no summons to
286 THE KING OF ALSANDER
the Palace, but, without formally demanding
my abdication, set your rabble on me and my
followers like a pack of starving curs ? It had
been arranged that on an emergency you
should have been told the truth. But you gave
us no chance, and the blood of my brave men
and of those poor fools and of your King
himself is on the heads of your conspirators."
" There is but one answer to your question
and you know it," said old Count Arnolfo,
" and that is that Vorza your dead leader was
a traitor, an ambitious traitor, and a vile
traitor ! r
But the Princess cut them short. " Set me
on the pedestal where stood the statue of my
ancestor," she cried, " and the King beside
me. Thence I will address Alsander ! " And
on to the pedestal she sprang with easy grace,
but the King, for all that an old soldier had
roughly staunched his wounds, had to be
lifted, weak and fainting, to her side.
" Courage, my lover," she whispered, as she
bent to raise him. " Do I forget that you are
wounded, that you are weary ? But stand up
now for the sake of Alsander, and for a moment
face these simple folk with me."
Straight and stiff he stood and deadly pale,
leaning on her arm while she in ringing tones
spake to her people.
"I," she said, " since the King Andrea is
dead, am by divine right and undisputed title
Queen of Alsander. From you who, without
deigning to consult me, have fought for the
divine right of my house, utter obedience and
submission I expect. I do as I choose, I say
as I choose, I dispose of Alsander as I choose,
and I make King thereof the man I choose,
and that King is at my side. If he is a foreigner
so was the great Kradenda: if he is of lowly
birth, so, too, was that founder of all Alsander' s
fortune, in the place of whose monument,
destroyed by and destroyer of my unhappy
kinsmen, we now stand together. May the
omen which was disastrous for him be pro-
pitious for us ! Now you may know that this
very night will be celebrated in the Castle
privately, out of respect for my dead kinsman,
my union with the already consecrated King
whom you have tried so savagely to kill. And
expect no further excuse or explanation from
me ; for you have behaved like fools, people
of Alsander, and had I not been warned just
in time of what was brewing by the only loyal
man in your conspiracy, irreparable disaster
would have befallen the State. And now my
soldiers will guard and prepare for interment
with all honour the remains of King Andrea,
of that good patriot Sforelli, and of those
brave soldiers who have perished in this
miserable tumult. Those of you who have your
own dead on this square may remain to attend
them unmolested; but the rest of you must
288 THE KING OF ALSANDER
disperse at once and quietly to your several
The half understanding populace listened in
sullen silence to these bitter and uncom-
promising words. But an old shoemaker who
stood in the front rank of the crowd, his dim
eyes enchanted and his aged heart fired by the
beauty and fearlessness of the young Queen,
cried out: "Treat us as you will, Queen
lanthe of Alsander, but do not be angry with
your people: for we have been mightily de-
The Princess was moved. " You were led by
an evil shepherd," she replied, " who forced
me to deceive you. But love for the people of
Alsander is branded on my heart and on the
" Then let us cheer," shouted the old shoe-
maker, shaking his grizzled locks toward the
crowd, " for the Queen and for the King of
Alsander ! "
* * * * *
We leave them there, the Mistress and/the
Captain of a little ship of State, and only ask,
before we turn to the Epilogue in Blaindon
But what of Peronella ? Did Cesano thrash the
nonsense out of her in good Alsandrian
fashion, wed her, and live happily ever after,
peopling with troops of swarthy children some
mountain cottage in a foreign land? Or did
he quail before her flashing eyes, dismissed
for ever, and is that darker fancy true that it
is she whom men call the Blood-red Rose
from the cabins of Moscow to the cabarets of
Montmartre, she for whom many have died,
she who they say has ordered the death of
legions in her fierce hatred of Kings and the
minions of Kings ? Only this is certain, that
neither she nor her lover were ever seen again
in that fantastic town, Alsander.
THE POET VISITS BLAINDON ONCE
MORE, AND TAKES JOHN GAFFE-
KIN TO THE SEASHORE WHERE A
. . . les hommes aux yeux verts . . . ceux-l
qui aiment la mer, la mer immense, tumultueuse
et verte, 1'eau informe et multiforme.
Vives autem beautus, vives in mea tutela
gloriosus, et cum spatium saeculi tui permensus
ad inferos demearis ibi quoque in ipso sub-
terraneo semirutundo me ... videbis
Acherontis tenebris interlucentum, Stygiisque
I sis to Lucius in the " Golden Ass.''
JOHN GAFFEKIN, weary of this world, left his
invalid mother asleep, in charge of the nurse,
and walked down into Blaindon after a
miserable meal. His mother's health was
worse, his prospects gloomy; his life had
become very friendless since Norman went
abroad. From the latter, moreover, he had
had no news for months.
The night was clear and pleasant, but to
a lonely man the far-shining brilliance of the
Blaindon Arms appeared more pleasant still:
THE POET VISITS BLAINDON 291
and so he turned on his heel and swung in
through the unaccustomed door.
" Why, bless me, Mr Gaffekin," said Nancy,
" it's a long time since you've been in."
" It is, indeed, Nancy. How's life ? "
" Oh, just as usual, Mr Gaffekin, thank you.
Have you heard from Mr Price again ? "
" Not a word," said John. " Not a single
word since last summer."
" Now, that's odd, sir," said Peter Smith,
" very odd."
" I tell you what," said Thomas Bodkin,
the sexton, with prodigious wisdom, " he's
fallen in love."
" He wasn't much that sort, Mr Bodkin,"
said Nancy, with a little sigh. It pleased her
to imagine that her heart was broken.
" Damned silly," said old Canthrop.
" Damned silly. Never tould his feyther."
" And the old man so cut up about it," said
"Yes," said John. "Didn't get back to
business for nearly a week."
" Ah, it's curious to think of him so far
away," said Nancy. " Out there in Aljanda.
That is, if he wasn't killed in the row."
" Ah, if ..." said the sexton ominously.
The Daily Mail had contained one day a
few months ago a small paragraph which had
caused quite an excitement in the village of
Blaindon, reporting " considerable fermenta-
292 THE KING OF ALSANDER
tion in the little State of Alsander." But the
succeeding numbers had no further informa-
tion on the subject, being well stocked with
letters answering the grave question " Is the
stage immoral? " which the great paper had
proposed to itself with typical earnestness and
audacity. The inhabitants of Blaindon, how-
ever, were not deterred by the meagreness of
the data from an almost daily discussion as to
whether their fellow townsman had perished.
" You cheer up, Nancy," said John Oggs,
who was the sexton's opponent in the con-
troversy. " Price is all right, and he'll turn up
again one of these days, all boiled yellow by
"What a strange thing Life is," said Nancy.
|" A strange thing indeed," said old Can-
throp. " A strange thing."
" The sun makes one red, not yellow," said
the sexton. " But it's small colour he's showing
now, poor boy, I can tell you. In them furrin
parts knives aint reserved for cheese. And he'd
have written for sure."
" Ah, sexton," said John to escape the
perpetual topic, " I can see you're a man of
" Well, Mr Gaffekin, I may not have been
to Oxford, as I say, but I does think. As I said
to Parson once before a burial. ' You and I,
sir/ I said, ' are thinking men.' It goes with
the business, "i
THE POET VISITS BLAINDON 293
" It must be dreadful work," said John
Oggs. " Digging holes for dead men. Well, we
must all go under."
" Ay, indeed," said old Canthrop.
" Don't speak from the bottom of your throat
like that," said Peter Smith. "It gives me the
horrors, with all this talk about death and all."
" Death should not give anyone the hor-
rors," said the sexton, who attended church
regularly. " It is but the Portal, Of a better
" But it's rather nice to have the horrors
sometimes," came Nancy's voice from behind
the bar. " I wonder why ! "
" Not but what," continued the sexton, " it
is not excusable now for me. For my work is
very sad and awesome indeed."
The sexton had never before been so im-
pressed with the conversational advantage of
his lugubrious occupation, and he determined
to make up for lost opportunities.
" I believe you, sexton," said Peter Smith,
" Some of them as I've buried was all
young and blooming, and others were ever so
old, nearly as old as Canthrop yonder."
" Don't talk like that," said the patriarch,
hoarsely. " Ye make me afeard."
" I wonder what it is to-night," said a
labourer in the corner who had hitherto drunk
in silence, " that makes you all talk as if
you couldn't say what you meant."
294 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" Perhaps a man is being hanged/' said the
" Poor fellow ! " said Nancy.
" I feel queer to-night," drawled old Can-
throp. " But I don't know why that is. What is
it makes it so ? ''
;c The moon, old man, the moon."
The company started with fear at the
sound of this strange voice, turned round, and
with blanched faces beheld the figure of
an old man framed in the doorway, with the
silver light creeping along his hoary beard,
and over his unprecedented clothes. For the
stranger was clothed in what appeared to be
a white woollen dressing-gown, with a purple
border, and he had sandals on his feet. He
wore no hat, and his snowy hair waved gently
in the radiance of the gaslight. He walked
forward amid a dead silence, and laid his hand
on old Canthrop's shoulder.
" Yes, old comrade in a life of folly," he
cried. " The moon is full to-night, and you
know it is her fault. Hers are the fiery drops
that make your eyes water and my eyes shine.
I, to whom she has revealed her secret springs
of knowledge and beauty, you, who have not
fifty words to your tongue I, who feel her
gentle influence pervading forest and mea-
dow, tower and town, you, who feel only the
terror of her nocturnal power that brings you
to your fellows, you, the village dotard, I, the
THE POET VISITS BLAINDON 295
king of the world ; we have one mother, old man,
and that's the Moon! You see and fear the
great white spaces that flit before your eyes; I
know and love her cloudy caverns of mystery
" Who are you ? " whispered old Canthrop.
" Go away!"
" A minute, a minute. I am what you will,
Death, Destiny, a Poet. Is John Gaffekin
here ? "
" Are you . . . " began John.
" I am the same. Ask nothing more. My dear
a drink round to all, for our farewell."
The Poet looked round, smiling at the
solemn and pale faces, at the trembling hands
of those that proposed his health. Then, link-
ing his arm through John's, he took him out
into the street.
" Come with me," said the Poet, " we will
go to old William Price's shop."
After five minutes' walk in a silence which
John Gaffekin somehow did not wish to break
they arrived outside the little square brick
house which was dark, silent and shuttered
fast. In front of it the last gas-lamp in Blain-
don glimmered in the wind-driven moon-rays.
" Call the old man," ordered the Poet.
John Gaffekin banged violently at the door
and shouted: " Mr Price ! Mr Price ! "
" Eh, what's up the deuce and all ? " came
a loud but sleepy voice from the first floor.
296 THE KING OF ALSANDER
A match was struck, a light glimmered
through the bars, the shutters creaked open
and old Mr Price popped his nightcap out of
" News from your son," cried the Poet
" Eh, is that anything to jump a man up
for in the dead o' night ? " retorted the old
man, cursing under his breath. " I was feared
of a smoky black beggaring fire at the least, I
was. What the devil do I care about the young
rip ? He owes me a hundred pound, he do, and
I wrote him, but he never sent back a penny
nor a post-card."
" You're a nice, pretty father," exclaimed
the Poet. " I've got your hundred in my
" I'll come down to you and Mr Gaffekin,"
said William Price very civilly.
" No you won't," retorted the Poet, " you
should have come down before. You'll stay
right where you are and answer me some
questions I have in my head to ask you. And
if you budge from that window you sha'n't
have a groat nor a tizzy of all your hundred
" It's cold here," grumbled Mr Price,
churlishly, flapping his arms across his chest.
" What d'yer want to know ? "
" Why, first of all, tell me why you never
go out of nights ? " cried the Poet.
THE POET VISITS BLAINDON 297
" What's that to you ? " bawled back the
" And tell me, tell me, William Price, who
was the mother of your son ? ' ! the Poet
" What in Hell or under it is that to you ? "
came in very full-throated accents from the
" Why is your bedstead all made of wood ? "
thundered the relentless Poet in stentorian
" Hey, stop that ! " cried the voice from the
But the Poet continued his questions un-
" Why have you half forgotten your own
son, William Price ? Why do you sleep all day,
Father William, and pretend to be more stupid
than the grave ? Do you think a Poet cannot
see through the film you cast over your happy
eyes ? 5!
" Eh, what are you driving at ? " exclaimed
Sir Price in a voice no longer angry but rather
" Who are your guests to-night, old man,
who are your guests to-night ? " yelled the
Poet, positively dancing with malicious satis-
" Why, be you one of them that know ? "
cried the old man in a new tone of something
like awe and something like fellowship.
298 THE KING OF ALSANDER
" I am one of the chief of those that know,"
replied the Poet; " for me shutters unbar, for
me the music pipes, and even my companion
for all he can wrap his soul up in the wisdom
of Oxford town shall see the fairies haunting.
' What! " said John.
But the Poet urbanely continued: " I'm
forgetting those hundred pounds," and taking
out a sheaf of banknotes from a vast white
pocket like a snow-cavern he crumpled them
into a ball and hurled them at one of the
The shutter opened to let the packet pass.
" Money, my friend," observed the Poet
tranquilly, " opens all doors."
A soft peal of very quiet laughter filled the
little house and all the other shutters opened
to a thin music: room after room flashed
into light as though so many plays were
starting on so many miniature stages with all
the shadows flying to the roof : and one by one
the half naked little women of the wild crept
out of hiding and began their dance. And
through it all as though it meant nothing for
him, though his room was flashing from hue
to hue like a transformation scene and an
enchanting person had her arms around his
neck, old Price bawled down: " Well, what of
Norman ? "
" He has become King of that country and
wedded to its Queen," roared the Poet.
THE POET VISITS BLAINDON 299
" I always said he was a sound practical
fellow without an idea in his head," remarked
William Price with serene philosophy.
" Like most of the Half -Race," assented the
" But we filled his bottle with luck," trilled
the silvery lady upstairs.
" And his countenance with beauty," re-
plied the Poet. " Well, we really must be off
now. Good-bye to you all, and a pleasant
evening ! "
Laughing good-byes rippled back at him
from all over the house like the jingling of toy
" Let us walk down to the sea," said the
Poet, turning to go. " How far is it to the sea,
John ? "
" Ten miles."
" And by which road ? "
" Straight on."
" Ah, yes," said the Poet, setting of? at a
swinging pace, " it is the road by which first
I came to Blaindon."
But before they had gone many yards John
heard his name called and stood still. Down
through the moonlight glided as it might be a
wingless angel and by his side there stood the
fairy of the upper window.
" John," she said, " when you see my son
again give him this kiss."
And kissing him she floated away.
300 THE KING OF ALSANDER
The Poet who had gone ahead, waited for
John to come up.
" But I must go back to my mother," the
young man protested, as though a glimpse of
the unmagical past had driven a sword
through his mind. " She is very ill."
" I fear she will die within the week,"
replied the Poet, " but I inquired at your
house on the way to the Blaindon Arms and
learnt that to-night she is happily asleep and
will not need you. When you are alone in the
world, John, you must go to Norman to give
him his mother's kiss and help him through
days of trouble. It's no easy game even in a
little country, even with a born Queen, even
with the Immortals helping the game of
He said no more. The two went on together
on the road leading to the sea, without another
word, for miles. John dared not speak ; he was
half delirious with the silence; the dread pre-
diction of his mother's death, the wild story
about his friend, rang in his ears; the house
of the Fairies danced before his eyes; and he
feared his fateful companion. The wizard
forms of the hedges threatened John Gaffekin,
the harvest moon, golden and vast, seemed to
shine hot upon his hatless brow. He kept com-
paring the trickling of the roadside brook to
the trickling of the little thoughts in his head;
he could not get rid of this grotesque com-
THE POET VISITS BLAINDON 301
parison, and grew more afraid. At last the
poet broke the silence.
" Are you lonely, John ? " he said. " Or
have you found women after your desire ? "
" Women ? " said John. " I never cared for
any woman but for my mother. I have one
friend far away of whom you tell me news I
cannot understand. I have known many
men at Oxford good athletes or great wits.
But I shall never make another friend like
him, I shall certainly seek him out if what you
predict falls true. I am indeed lonely."
They were silent again. They had now come
to brackish marshes, and to a land of dizzy
vapours. The wind blew harder from the sea,
singing like a hero, bringing with it a salt and
pungent odour. The poet linked his arm with
the young man's as though to protect him
from the evil spells of night.
" Take heart, my friend," said he. " You
have years of glorious life before you, and it is
a splendid night for visions."
John suddenly stopped, swung round to face
the old man, and began speaking hurriedly,
gasping for breath before each phrase.
" What has happened ? " he cried. " Why
am I here ? Who are you ? An hour or two
ago I was just an unhappy man, rather
lonely, with a mother lying ill. Now, you tell
me my mother will die, and you tell me news
about my friend too wild for a sober man to
302 THE KING OF ALSANDER
repeat; you have already shown me that which
I feared to see, and now, as though it were not
sufficient, you say the night is propitious
for visions. I am so distressed in mind that
I cannot talk properly; the words get inverted,
the world reels like a decadent's dream, my
head is turning with it, and I keep on feeling
a sort of brook trickling. What are you doing
in that white coat ? Who are you ? Tell me who
John raised his voice to the pitch of anger
at the end, wroth that this mysterious being
should cross his path fantasia, non homo."
" Be calm, my friend: all is well; you are not
used to the extensions of Reality, that is all.
I do not want to take advantage of the night.
Behold we have arrived at the seashore.
Leave me now, friend of Norman! Go on to
that distant rock, and watch. You may see
what is to be seen. But do not profane the
silence of the moonlight."
And he waved his hands in front of John's
bewildered eyes as he chanted low the injunc-
John obeyed him as by constraint, and
watched from a rock some hundred yards
The old man made ablutions in the sea and
began to intone his prayer.
" Thou who appearest in the waves of
water, of wind and of fire, Queen who with
THE POET VISITS BLAINDON 303
special majesty dost sway the minds of men,
the beasts and cattle and all the moving sub-
stance of the thundering world, appear to
me, be mine, be myself: show the lucid sign
upon thy brows: grant me the reward for
faithful service: let me hear once again from
those immortal lips thy ancient promise,
that in the pit of Acheron, yea, even there,
thou wilt be shining among the thoughtless
dead. Thou art and art not the great Cy-
therean, mother of the world, thou art and art
not Artemis, the virgin of the forests, the
huntress, thou art and art not Pallas,
to whom the snake has told his story, thou art
and art not her to whom sailors pray in the
still waters of the middle sea: it may be the
Egyptians knew thee by thy name: it may be
thou art the mother of Christians in the
South. Thou art in me but thou art not what
I am ! I salute thee ! "
John saw the old man fling off his white
mantle: an instant after it was in flames: Then
he thought he saw him rise naked among the
flames and run toward the sea with a silver
disc shining on his breast: and he began to
swim out along the track of the moon. Then
he saw the great full moon burst into a
shower of stars and fall into the sea, and a
white woman rose, huge and glorious, from
the waves, with a horned helmet on her brow
and spread over the sky like light till she
304 THE KING OF ALSANDER
filled the world. Then the treble octave was
sounded all through the universe, and he fell
He awoke hours later, but saw nothing save
a wet sea rolling in the dawn.
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